Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

John Powers’ List Of What He Wishes He Had Reviewed In 2015

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is featured at the top of Fresh Air critic John Power’s list of media he wishes he had reviewed in the past year. Read an excerpt of the transcript below, or listen to the full podcast on NPR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Our critic-at-large, John Powers, is going to reveal an end-of-the-year list that he usually keeps to himself.

JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: It’s that time of year when critics proudly unveil their 10-best lists. But every December, I find myself compiling a private list that’s different and guiltier. I call it my ghost list. And it’s composed of all the terrific things I’ve read, watched or heard. They’re for reasons ranging from bad-timing to laziness. Yes, critics can be lazy. I didn’t get around to praising on FRESH AIR. This year I’ve decided to rectify that by conjuring up six ghosts I wish I’d shared with you earlier. As it happens, they all reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, a small obsession of mine – America’s impact on other cultures.

That impact is explicit in “The Sympathizer,” the dazzling first novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a USC professor who was born in Vietnam but grew up a refugee in the states. The book’s narrator-hero is a double-agent, a Vietcong spy who works for a South Vietnamese general. It’s a role that takes him from the fall of Saigon to exile in Southern California to work on a movie like “Apocalypse Now.” I’ve read scads of Vietnam War books, but “The Sympathizer,” has an exciting quality I haven’t encountered. Nguyen writes in a voice that’s quintessentially American – smart, funny, brash. Yet, he writes from deeply within the Vietnamese experience. The result is a fascinating exploration of personal identity, cultural identity and what it means to sympathize with two sides at once.


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