Lea Franqui lists The Sympathizer on her list of books about Culture Shock in this feature for Electric Lit.
I moved to Mumbai, India almost three years ago so I’m intimately acquainted with the concept of culture shock. When I wrote my debut novel, America for Beginners, I was curious to see how immigrants and visitors responded to the United States, but the truth is, I was curious to see how being outside of one’s native space teaches people about themselves too. Culture shock is, I think, my brain’s resistance to adaptation to what is new and unfamiliar, and that is often a reaction to changing, to being forced or asked to change. What I mean to say is, it’s really more about me than the place I’m being shocked by! What I have learned the most through living in India is about myself, how much I want to belong, and how that desire informs my experience and identity.
The list below are books that help me when I’m in my most, and least, culture shocked moments, sometimes because they advocate for acceptance, for adapting, for openness, and sometimes because they reflect my desire to just get away from it all. These books around all in some way about culture shock, when traveling abroad, when confronting one’s own country or a country one is from. Sometimes the hardest thing is readapting to being in one’s own country, and that disquieting feeling of being an alien in the place you are supposed to belong to haunts some of these novels, while others are about how much better a new place suits the characters, how really, although they are far from their homeland, they are also right at home.
[See complete list here.]
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
One of the best novels I have read in a long time, Nguyen’s novel is masterful, hilarious, extremely well observed and heartbreaking, all at once. Every part of it is just magnificent as a commentary on Vietnam and the United States, but there is a special place in my heart for the passages depicting the bewildering experience the anonymous narrator has as the native advisor on an Apocalypse Now style Hollywood movie for it’s sheer absurdity that can only be actual truth. I have never seen my own country so clearly as through Nguyen’s eyes.