Best of The Decade

The Sympathizer is recognized across various literary sites as one of the best books of the decade.

Literary Hub‘s Best of the Decade: What Books Will We Still Be Reading in 10 Years?

It’s mid-September, 2019, and we’re beginning to see the light (or to be slightly more accurate, the infinite pulsing darkness) at the end of the decade. In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking back at the ten years that were, as well as forward to the ones to come. To begin our descent, I proposed a staff poll, of sorts: I asked each of my colleagues in the Literary Hub office to make a list of the ten books from the last ten years that they thought we’d still be reading—for good or ill—ten years from now, circa 2030.

The below results collate the responses of 14 people, who range in age and interest as much as possible for a group that works for a literary website. I was not surprised to see Claudia Rankine’s Citizen top the list by a wide margin—that’s a book that keeps on getting more relevant; one hopes that in ten years we’ll be reading it as an artifact, but one also doubts it. Same goes for some of the others on here, though some of course are just very good novels that people will continue to enjoy.

Take a look, and if you’re so moved, tell us which books you think we’ll all still be reading, talking about, and studying in ten years time in the comments.

The Sympathizer obtained 4 votes.

Read about the other selections at Literary Hub.

Esquire’s The Best Books of the 2010s Nudged the World in a New, Better Direction

In a time when the country is re-examining what it means to be American, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer eloquently explores the duality of the immigrant experience. Its insight extends all the way to how the Western world (mis)represents other cultures in popular culture, making for a darkly hilarious, deeply moving espionage thriller.

Read about the other selections at Esquire.

Insider’s 101 books from the 2010s that you need to read

Viet Thanh Nguyen tells “The Sympathizer” from the perspective of a double agent Vietnamese army captain who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon. Under the guise of starting over in Los Angeles, the narrator feeds information back to communist leaders in Vietnam.

His life, torn between two worlds, becomes all the more complicated as he makes new friendships and falls in love, highlighting the struggle between ideals and identity. 

“The Sympathizer” won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Find about the other recommendations at Insider.

Literary Hub‘s The 20 Best Novels of the Decade

As a novel, The Sympathizer is a roiling, darkly comic, propulsive literary thriller set in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, as a North Vietnamese mole keeps watch on the exiled South Vietnamese government in Southern California—it is compulsive reading, arresting in its language, unforgettable in its imagery. But it is more than that. By simply writing the words “Vietnam War” I am able to conjure an entire American mythology, the 40-year cultural byproduct of so much not-quite propaganda/not-quite art: long-haired protesters in the streets, Rustbelt grunts wading through steaming jungles, a flock of juddering choppers against an enormous foreign sun, broken men returning to a country that does not want them… This is the “American” version of the war, a story we’ve told “ourselves” that, while not particularly flattering, is as narrow and myopic as any campfire epic.

So let’s try this: The Sympathizer is an American novel about an American War, a devastating and needless conflict that created hundreds of thousands of refugees, new Americans (we were all new here, at some point) who found a home in the empire that displaced them, and who’ve made it better. Our cultural account of the American war in Vietnam has never been fully “ours” because it has neglected and actively excluded the perspectives of these refugees and their descendants. The Sympathizer is a vital work of art that begins to redress that imbalance. 

Read about the other best novels at Literary Hub.

Literary Hub’s The 10 Best Debut Novels of the Decade

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.” From the very first line of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s brilliant debut, I could tell this book was going to make literary history. When The Sympathizer won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Edgar Award, I was glad to see the world agreed. The Sympathizer’s premise sets up its many complicated acts—a child born to a young Vietnamese mother and a dissolute French Catholic priest must flee to South Vietnam for the sins of his parentage; there, he is recruited as a secret agent to spy on his countrymen, and soon enough, turns double agent by the North to spy on his powerful patrons in the South, his position complicated by his refugee flight to California, where he falls in love with the rebellious daughter of a former general who once employed him.

Oh, sympathizer, how shall I count the ways in which I love thee? The Sympathizer‘s brilliance is manyfold: the perspective of a double agent makes us privy to secrets and allows us entrance to rationalizations on all sides of the Vietnam conflict; the nameless spy’s peregrinations follow an Odyssean route to exile and then home, culminating in a Lord of the Rings-esque return to the shire only to find it controlled by petty dictators; a parody of Apocalypse Now encapsulates everything that is wrong with both Hollywood and the American interpretation of authenticity. There are many reasons to sing the praise of this singular text. While frequently earning comparison to Graham Green and John le Carre, The Sympathizer is also a meditation on identity, exile, culture, history, and so much more. I can’t recommend this book enough. 

Read about the other debuts at Literary Hub.

Paste Magazine’s The 40 Best Novels of the 2010s

The unnamed narrator of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer is all contradictions: a North Vietnamese mole who befriends South Vietnamese and American troops; the son of a Vietnamese mother and a white father; a native of Vietnam educated abroad. He is the sympathizer, drawing parallels and equivocations between seeming extremes, even when forced under duress to write a confession justifying his own exile. Vietnam War fiction is dominated by Western perspectives, and Nguyen—the son of North Vietnamese refugees who moved to America when he was four—has explained the novel is partially an attempt to reconcile his relationship to movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. The result is by turns a spy novel, a forbidden love story, a cultural comedy and an immigrant’s tale, but above all else, it’s a story about the contentious relationship between the personal and the political.

Find out more about the other recommendations at Paste Magazine.

Vulture’s A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s recent first novel comes after a career as a leading scholar of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian culture. It is part thriller, part the “Empire Writing Back,” part revenge tragedy, part screed against Apocalypse Now, and the best novel about the Vietnamese diaspora. The form — a series of confessions forced on the narrator by his shadowy prison warden — turns his stories from self-revelation to more complex utterances, adding a level of second-guessing for readers. An exquisite examination of the psyche under duress.

Read about the other recommendations at Vulture.

Literary Hub’s 100 Books That Defined the Decade

Essential stats: It’s already hard to remember that The Sympathizer was USC professor Nguyen’s debut—it, and he, are now such vital parts of the literary landscape. The novel was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, as well as the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and a host of other prizes. It was also a bestseller, of course—the paperback alone was on the Los Angeles Times list for 70 weeks. As for Nguyen himself, he was awarded both a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017.

What made it defining? The Sympathizer is the most important war novel of the decade. It upended our deeply entrenched, America-centric views of the Vietnam War, which, as Philip Caputo pointed out in The New York Times, was a “very literary war.” But The Sympathizer, he writes, whose author was “born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.” Or as our own Jonny Diamond put it:

The Sympathizer is an American novel about an American War, a devastating and needless conflict that created hundreds of thousands of refugees, new Americans (we were all new here, at some point) who found a home in the empire that displaced them, and who’ve made it better. Our cultural account of the American war in Vietnam has never been fully “ours” because it has neglected and actively excluded the perspectives of these refugees and their descendants. The Sympathizer is a vital work of art that begins to redress that imbalance.

Read about the other defining books at Literary Hub.

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