Alice Walker on The Sympathizer

Author and activist Alice Walker shares her thoughts on The Sympathizer. The following article was originally published on her official website.

Was the Civil Rights Movement a politically orchestrated distraction from the wars on the citizens, lands and cultures of yellow people half a world away? We were distracted, some more than others, by assassinations and hangings, fire bombing of cars and houses, and the humiliating back and forth “progress” of “integration” via the long torturous march of Civil Rights cases through the usually rigged and racist courts.

Flannery O’Connor once remarked about writing that a good story is one that stays written.  She was a white Southern woman saved from becoming historically irrelevant by being both plain and lame. I am grateful for this blessing that gave her more insight than millions of white Southerners who found nothing peculiar about believing human beings born with melanin were inferior, while their lack of it made them avoid the sun.

Which is to say there can be sizable gifts tucked into the crevices of our crosses.

It is the fact that he is a “bastard” -mother Vietnamese, father a French priest – that gives the protagonist of THE SYMPATHIZER his dual vision and “second sight.”  And what a story he tells with it, in this absorbing, elegantly written book by Viet Thanh Nguyen.  In fact, if you are an American, of any culture or color, you will benefit from reading this book which offers, in exquisite thought and phrase, the multi-layered experience of a war most Americans have blotted out of consciousness, suppressed, or willfully ignored.  I’ve been waiting to read this book for decades, since an obscenely brutal war on a small country few Americans knew anything about, kept us turning on the spiritual spit of our frustration, anger, sorrow, shame, and ultimate powerlessness, as millions of profoundly innocent people (their biggest crime that they fought to protect their country and themselves) were harmed beyond imagining.

So many discoveries here, too.  For instance, did you realize napalm was created at Harvard?

I recommend audio for the perfect narration by Francois Chau.  Such a voice, with all the nooks and crannies of growth and soul.


Alice Walker is an internationally celebrated writer, poet and activist whose books include seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 1983 and the National Book Award.

Category: Reviews


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  1. Christopher Rushlau says:

    I guess she made her point but she could have gone on. Let me go on, with something I said to a law professor of mine after coming back from Iraq, in 2005 or so: “the global war on terror is for those who were not paying attention during the Vietnam War.” And you know, I think the second time’s the charm (albeit we’ve already done this ten times or more, but not on live TV): we’re learning that racism just doesn’t work. Not that we want to learn it: it seems to be creeping in on us like the Viet Cong in the take-off of “Poison Ivy”: “late at night when you’re sleeping Viet Cong comes a-creeping all around.” In a phrase: these other people are not just like us, they are us. If you don’t get out of the lynch mob, they come for you next. Who would have thought you could base a world culture on the lynch mob? Well, as Woody Allen might say, it was something to do.