Robert Speer reviews Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel, The Sympathizer, for Chico News & Review.
There have been many superb books set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, but none as extraordinary and unique as The Sympathizer, written by a man born in Vietnam but raised in America. His unnamed narrator, the son of a French priest and a Vietnamese peasant woman, is a Vietnamese army captain serving as aide to a Vietnamese general. He is also a communist spy. The story begins in 1975, with the chaotic last-minute escape from Saigon, during which the narrator arranges to accompany the general to Los Angeles. There he continues to spy on the Vietnamese exile community, even as he becomes a consultant on an Apocalypse Now-type movie and falls in love with the general’s daughter. When he comes under suspicion, he is forced to commit murder to protect his secrecy, and eventually ends up back in Vietnam as a prisoner of his erstwhile associates, the communists. A plot synopsis, however, hardly does justice to this complex and beautifully written novel, an instant American classic.