Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer is a haunting book about the end of the Vietnam War and the aftermath that followed, both in expat communities and in Vietnam itself. The narrator is a double agent, a communist working for a general who flees to Los Angeles with the help of the CIA as Saigon falls, and from there tries to set up a new invasion force.

It is both wonderfully written and brutal. Everyone is to blame. The corrupt elite. The clueless and violent Americans, even those who make movies (with clear reference to Apocalypse Now). The revolutionaries who want to steal liberty from everyone. The narrator, himself mixed race, doesn't fit anywhere neatly and therefore tries to see all sides.

"Now that we are the powerful, we don't need the French or the Americans to fuck us over. We can fuck ourselves just fine" (364) sums it up. All sides have their slogans, all meaningless, all meaning nothing. He even kills for these slogans, and those he kills literally haunt him as ghosts in his mind.


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