Library Journal: Starred Review for The Sympathizer

“Breathtakingly cynical,” “powerful, thought-provoking work,” “hard to believe this effort…is a debut,” “right up there with Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke,” “a big, bold debut” that “takes risks.”


SYMPATHIZER Starred Library Journal Feb 15 2015 cropped

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Sympathizer. Grove. Apr. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780802123459. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802191694. F

[The original review can be read here. ]

Written as a postwar confessional, this novel begins with its nameless protagonist, a highly placed young aide to a general in the South Vietnamese army, recalling how he finalized the details of escape before the fall of Saigon. But our hero is a double agent, a communist sympathizer who will continue to feed information to the North even after he makes the harrowing escape with his loyalist friend Bon and the general’s family on the last plane out, and becomes part of the Vietnamese refugee community in Southern California. Breathtakingly cynical, the novel has its hilarious moments; the reader will especially enjoy Nguyen’s take on 1970s American life. To maintain his cover, our hero must become entangled in the general’s underground resistance group, which plots a return to Vietnam through Cambodia, and the tale turns seriously dark. VERDICT Ultimately a meditation on war, political movements, America’s imperialist role, the CIA, torture, loyalty, and one’s personal identity, this is a powerful, thought-­provoking work. It’s hard to believe this effort, one of the best recent novels to cover the Vietnamese conflict from an Asian perspective, is a debut. This is right up there with Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. [See Prepub Alert, 10/27/14.]—Reba Leiding, emeritus, James ­Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA

The prepub alert in an earlier issue of Library Journal calls The Sympathizer a “big, bold debut” that “takes risks, joggling our understanding and opening old wounds to clarify important history.”


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