Publishers Weekly On The Sympathizer

“This spring’s most-anticipated debut novels shake up traditional notions: Ben Metcalf takes on language and Southern culture; Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a new account of the Vietnam conflict, told from the perspective of a double-crossing Army captain; and Sarah Gerard has a cerebral take on the classic road-trip novel. These and the rest of our picks point to an exciting, unsettling season for fiction.” Read on.

The actual article by Daniel Lefferts on The Sympathizer says:

The conflict in Vietnam has given rise to countless books and movies dealing with American experiences of the war. But “it was a topic that I felt hadn’t been covered adequately,” says Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American English professor at UCLA. “[I wanted] to make the case for how the end of that war extended well after the cease-fires.”

The Sympathizer centers on a captain in the South Vietnamese army who relocates to Los Angeles with several of his comrades in 1975. Unbeknownst to his comrades, the captain is reporting on the group’s activities to a superior in the Communist-allied Vietcong. Nguyen weaves details about what it was like to be Vietnamese in America after the war, and the role of Hollywood in shaping national attitudes about conflict, into this spy novel–esque setup.

Nguyen was born in a small village in South Vietnam in 1971. His family fled with him to America when he was four. They settled in San Jose, Calif., which is home to one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country. “I grew up in this Vietnamese ethnic enclave, where I was surrounded by stories of what these people went through during the war,” Nguyen says. “I was deeply affected by that.”

Peter Blackstock, Nguyen’s editor at Grove Atlantic, says, “The first thing that struck me about the book was the voice, so assured and unusual—garrulous, persuasive, somewhat supercilious, very subversive, but totally winning.” Blackstock adds that Nguyen was “interested in why a 26-year-old British guy would want to acquire a novel about the Vietnam War. I didn’t really have an answer for that, except that, as a young non-American, maybe I didn’t have any baggage relating to the war and its position in American culture.” He adds that the book shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a war novel: “At its heart, it’s a piece of literary fiction with a beautiful voice and a gripping plot that takes you inside another person’s brain. To my mind that’s perhaps the best thing that fiction can be.”

And Publishers Weekly also gave The Sympathizer a starred review.

A couple of corrections are in order: I am a USC professor, not UCLA (oh, horror!) and I was not born in a small village but in the small town of Ban Me Thuot (now the much larger town or small city of Buon Me Thuot).

Category: News, Reviews

 

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