The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Book cover of The Sympathizer

Book description


It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked The Sympathizer as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I’ve never encountered such a duplicitous and complicated character as the Captain. Having to survive life in Vietnam before and during America’s entry into the war, and after as an immigrant in America, I kept thinking I understood why the character behaved the way he did. His actions made sense. Then I’d get what I thought was a glimpse at his heart and intentions and know I had him all wrong, only to turn the page and see a completely different facet of him again.

Over and over his past and present and desires for the future kept morphing him.…

From Devin's list on books with super shady characters.

Like many of my generation of Americans I demonstrated against the Vietnam War which I saw unfolding at a distance through the newspapers and the television screen. 

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel has a remarkable sense of being inside the skin of his title character, a young Vietnamese sympathizer of the North Vietnamese as they attempt to free the South. This is a book of great complexity.

Through the eyes of the protagonist, a double agent working for the South Vietnamese, we see the fall of Saigon, the escape of those who have connections on the final flights out and, in…

It’s not simply because I’m of a generation still haunted by the war in Vietnam that I was pulled into this story of an immigrant – half-French, half-Vietnamese, and altogether screwed up – torn between his new and old identities.

Full of intrigue and suspense, the book is a great character study of a man who cannot figure out where his loyalties lie or who it is he is betraying. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

From Stephen's list on strangers in a strange land.

The narrator of this novel is a North Vietnamese spy embedded in a South Vietnamese refugee community in California. Full of treachery, duplicity, and betrayal, it is also hilariously funny. More than any other novel I’ve read, it captures the milieu of exile perfectly. Waiters, taxi drivers, and corner-store owners plotting murder in California and counter-revolution back home; wars from across the ocean fought all over again on the streets of Los Angeles. Every modern tale of exile resonates in this novel.

A bisection of the self is at the core of immigrant identity. Anyone whose life and sense of self have been split between two cultures will immediately identify with the protagonist of this gripping novel, a person who is fundamentally divided in his own soul. “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces,” announces our main character in the opening lines. “I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.” The protagonist…

From Julie's list on immigration and identity.

In 1979 I taught history at a high school in Texas and remember picking up Dallas paper and reading about the Ku Klux Klan clashing the Vietnamese refugees in Seadrift, Texas. Today, there are over 80,000 Vietnamese Americans in Houston, Texas. Most of the literature written by the Vietnamese has either been about the war or about Vietnam. In The Sympathizer, Thanh Nguyen draws attention to the plight of the Vietnamese who started arriving in America almost fifty years ago. But Thanh Nguyen’s novel is much deeper than the plight of immigrants arriving in America. It is also about…

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