LBB Presents ONLINE: Viet Thanh Nguyen with Min Jin Lee – The Committed

Viet Thanh Nguyen discuss his new novel, The Committed, with Min Jin Lee in an event held by Left Bank Books.

Left Bank Books welcomes award-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, who will discuss his new novel, “The Committed,” on March 9, 2021 at 7pm CT in a private online event. Nguyen will be in conversation with bestselling author Min Jin Lee.

Read the transcript below.

Shane Mullen: Hello, everyone. Thank you all so much for joining us. This is Left Bank Books, presents award-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen who will discuss his new novel The Committed. Nguyen will be in conversation with bestselling author Min Jin Lee. Left Bank Books is St. Louis’s oldest independent bookstore. We would like to thank all of our supporters, be supporters of Viet and Min and everyone for their outpouring of love for our bookstore. Left Bank Books offers curbside pickup and delivery to anywhere in the country, anywhere in the war world even. We are happy to be able to bring our event series virtual. We believe that events are a way to expand your mind and bring in new thoughts to make the world a better place.

Shane Mullen: We hope that you enjoy this event and we hope that you support Left Bank Books by purchasing another possible signed copy of… Oh, behind me, The Committed or Min Jin Lee’s book Pachinko. And purchasing a copy of the book from Left Bank Books allows us to keep our bookstore and staff operating, and it allows us to keep this event series going. So thank you for your support. We need your support. I am Shane Mullen. I’m the event’s coordinator for Left Bank Books. I help produce our hundred of author events each year with a fantastic team here in St. Louis. We will be taking questions from you the audience at the end of the event. So you can type your questions as a comment, and you can actually do that at any point in time throughout the event.

Shane Mullen: Be sure to follow Left Bank Books on Facebook to be notified about all of our fantastic virtual events. We have so many incredible events already lined up for the year and are adding events daily. About tonight’s book, The Committed, the long awaited new novel from one of America’s most highly regarded contemporary writers. The Committed follows the unnamed sympathizer as he arrives in Paris in the early 1980s with his blood brother Bon. The pair try to overcome their pasts and ensure their futures by engaging in capitalism in one of its purest forms, drug dealing. Traumatized by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, Man, and struggling to assimilate into French culture, the sympathizer finds Paris both seductive and disturbing.

Shane Mullen: As he falls in with a group of left-wing individuals whom he meets at dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese aunt, he finds stimulation for his mind, but also customers for his narcotic merchandise. But the new life he is making has perils he has not foreseen, whether the self torture of addiction, the authoritarianism of a state locked in a colonial mindset, or the seeming paradox of how to reunite his two closest friends whose world views put them in absolute opposition. The sympathizer will need all his wits, resourcefulness and moral flexibility if he is to prevail. Both literary thriller and novel of ideas, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen’s position in the firmament of American letters.

Shane Mullen: And about tonight’s speakers, Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. He is the author of The Sympathizer, which was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction alongside seven other prizes. He is also the author of the short story collection, The Refugees, a nonfiction book, Nothing Ever Dies, a finalist for the National Book Award and is the editor of an anthology of refugee writing, The Displaced. He is the Aerol Arnold professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California and a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations. He lives in Los Angeles. And tonight Viet will be in conversation with Min Jin Lee.

Shane Mullen: Min is a recipient of fellowships and fiction from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her novel Pachinko was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction, a runner up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the Medici Book Club Prize, and one of the New York Times 10 best books of 2017. A New York Times best seller, Pachinko was also named one of the 10 best books of the year for BBC and the New York Public Library and a best international fiction pick for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Shane Mullen: Her writings have appeared in the New Yorker NPR’s Selected Shorts, One Story, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveler, The Times of London and the Wall Street Journal. And now without further ado, I am so happy and proud to welcome our guests for the evening, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Min Jin Lee. If everyone at home would please help me in giving them a giant round of applause. Hello.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Hi, Shane. Thanks so much for that introduction. Hi, Min.

Min Jin Lee: Hi, Viet. And Shane, thanks so much for doing all the heavy lifting.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah.

Min Jin Lee: I’m so happy to be here tonight with the incredible Viet Thanh Nguyen, an author I admire so very much. I can prove it because I have all of his books and Refugee is downstairs. He has affected the way I think about literature, both critically as well as by example of great literature. And I think that’s a really, really hard thing to do, to be a great thinker about literature, as well as to write great literature. And it’s just an incredible honor to be here tonight. And congratulations Viet for your new book-

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Thanks so much, Jin.

Min Jin Lee: … which is amazing. And I hope that you’re really proud. I know that you must be exhausted because… Viet told me in the green room in French, I’m just kidding. He told me that he’s taking classes and he’s teaching classes and he’s on tour and he is a father of two small children. And he’s married. So he’s a busy man with a lot of constituents, but I think Ann Patchett… Have you read this essay by Ann Patchett where she talks about book tours?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Possibly, but remind me, please, and the audience as well.

Min Jin Lee: Yeah. And I think the audience will really like this story. She’s quoting I believe Allan Gurganus and another author. They’re at a bar and they’re commiserating at how difficult book tour is. And one of them says to her… I can’t remember which one, says, “The only thing that’s worse than a book tour is not having [crosstalk 00:07:06] a book tour.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I mean, authors are just complicated creatures, right? We’re never happy-

Min Jin Lee: No, [crosstalk 00:07:15] writers. I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I’ve been thinking a lot about your work and I’ve been thinking about how much you are affecting the way we think about colonialism, postcolonialism, refugees, immigration, and also about your tone, your tone, your first person voice and your tone. And I was just curious behind the comedy and the satire, there’s an enormous amount of heartbreak. And I was wondering if you could talk to me a little bit about the heartbreak of being an American of color.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Right. Great question. Before I answer that question, I just want to say hello to the audience here at Left Bank Books or virtually. I wish I was actually in St. Louis, never been there. And one day will visit St. Louis and Left Bank Books in-person. But in response to your question, Min, I think that it’s a shared experience for so many immigrants and refugees to come to United States. Mixed experience for many people, right? I mean, for a lot of people they really do want to come to this country for a variety of different reasons. And some of us are just brought along by circumstance, if our parents decided to come or if we came as refugees. So there’s a lot of optimism and all of that kind of thing, but as you I think accurately indicated, a lot of heartbreak as well.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Because even if you choose to come here, that doesn’t mean you are happy with every single thing that happens as a result. There’s so many things that can go wrong. Your business can fail. You can be humiliated whether you’re an adult or a child. You could still long for the place that you came from. So many different ways to feel heartbreak. For me, I think that coming here to this country as a refugee when I was four was really a crucial thing because maybe if I was born in this country, I wouldn’t feel the heartbreak. If I was born in this country, I would be psychologically an American and face a different set of challenges. My seven-year-old son born here, he says, “I’m an American,” and I’m not one to dispute how he feels, but because I was born in Vietnam and I was aware of that fact, I think I’ve always felt this psychic connection to Vietnam, which is a very complicated one.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Which means that I was also aware of the history of colonization and warfare or I became aware of that history. I became a student of that history to try to learn more about the history that produced me, shaped me, led my family to become refugees. And I was also aware of the absences and the losses. And I think this is true for some immigrants and certainly for a lot of refugees, survivors guilt. You made it to this country. A lot of people didn’t, right? They wanted to come then they couldn’t make it or they died along the way. And so for me there’s always that sense of who’s been left behind in my family and also of alternative histories like what if this had happened or what if that hadn’t happened? I would’ve grown up in Vietnam. What would my life have been like?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So all that I think adds to that sense of emotional, whether it’s melancholy or heartbreak, and I think most sensible people try to forget these things. They want to move on and do whatever they have to do to survive and to be successful. But I’ve discovered for me as a writer that I can’t move on in that sense. I mean, the emotional material in the writing that you’re talking about comes from me looking back to these things that I felt. Now, I find my own life really boring so I don’t like writing about myself autobiographically, but I need those emotions. I need to go look at those emotions and what produce them in order to have some sense of meaning in what it is that I write.

Min Jin Lee: I think that there’s so much emotion in your work, even in your non-fiction work. And I think that the propulsive nature of it, even as you’re making jokes, I could definitely sense this real sadness underneath it. Melancholy is one word for it, but there is a sense of anguish. I think that you can sense the mortification of what has occurred to the identity of the narrator and even lets just start with the first person name, you have Vo Dahn, which… If you can tell us what that means. I mean, I know what that means, but…

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, the sympathizer remains officially nameless throughout these two books. We never get to know his real name. And I think I know his real name, maybe I’ll reveal it in the third and final installment. But when he comes to Paris in The Committed, he has to get a passport. And so in the passport his name is Vo Danh, which is his joke on the French bureaucracy, but it’s a very painful joke because [crosstalk 00:11:47] on the one hand… Yeah, because the French bureaucracy thinks it knows him. His name is on a piece of paper, but in fact, what Vo Danh really means is literally no name or nameless or anonymous depending how you want to translate it. And it’s what is put on the gravestones of people whose identities are not known, for example, unknown soldiers.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And when I went to Vietnam to do research, I visited a lot of these so-called martyrs cemeteries where soldiers of the north, the communist side are buried. And so many of them are marked Vo Danh and it’s really tragic when you think about hundreds of thousands of young people, most of them men, but not only men, are forever nameless, forever lost to their families. And for Vietnamese culture is very important to be able to bury your relatives next to you. I mean, next to the family home in the village and all that, so that you know where their bodies are and you can honor them and so forth. So to be nameless is just not anonymous as it might be in the American context, it’s also to be wandering, to be a wandering soul. And so all of that is wrapped up in that name that is a joke and is also very painful at the same time.

Min Jin Lee: Exactly. Because I was thinking a great deal about the fact that in The Sympathizer, again, even just the idea of being named the sympathizer, which is a tremendous insult, right? To be considered a collaborator, a betrayer of your own country. And then you also have this idea of being nameless. In every single culture around the world through ancient times your name is so very important. And the fact that in The Committed, we have a character who says this joke, but the joke’s really on him. And then I really felt that incredible sense of pathos for this young person who’s having to be not just stateless, but also nameless. And I was just curious if you can talk about how that connects with America, this whole idea of Asian Americans being erased and essentially being considered perpetually foreign.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Right. Well, the novels are not about Asian American, but there isn’t doubt that my own experience as an Asian American as I eventually came to identify myself is very much at the core of this book. I’ve spoken often about the fact that growing up as an American I felt like I was a spy in my parents Vietnamese household spying on these Vietnamese people and then when I stepped out, I felt like I was a Vietnamese person spying on Americans. So I took that feeling, blew it up for these novels. But an Asian American, if you really think about what is an Asian American, it’s not simply a person who is an American, it’s a person who is brought to this country or who is here in this country because of these very complicated histories that often involve warfare, colonization, capitalism and the fact that the United States has been involved in various Asian countries. And by involved I mean fighting wars, oftentimes uninvited.

Min Jin Lee: [crosstalk 00:14:39] wars for communism, right?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Exactly.

Min Jin Lee: Yeah.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And so to be an Asian American for so many of us is to include this very international history of conflict and colonization and everything that the United States would rather forget. So in one sense being an Asian American is to cut off that history, at least in the most apolitical sense of the Asian American today. Let’s just talk about citizenship and belonging and anti-Asian violence here in the US without acknowledging that the anti-Asian violence here in the US is completely connected to the anti-Asian warfare that the United States has been doing for a very long time. And so all of that sense of experience is in these novels.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: When these novels are interrogating the Vietnam… When The Sympathizer interrogated the Vietnam War, I think people said, “Of course he’s Vietnamese so he is going to write about the Vietnam War.” And I want to make sure people don’t think that. That’s why The Committed is about France because what I’m saying in these two books is that these two things are completely connected. The Vietnam War and French colonization, they’re part of the same world system of exploitation and the Asian American is [crosstalk 00:15:41] one outcome of that.

Min Jin Lee: Oh, absolutely. And colonial settlerism, I mean, it’s so incredibly connected and you’re drawing the dots very, very beautifully. And I was just curious in terms of being a global thinker about these issues, how do you feel about how the Vietnamese respond to your take on it? Because I think the Vietnamese and I say this as a Korean American and Koreans can be very conservative and very, very progressive, it’s not always a monolithic response to our work. And I was just curious, I mean, what’s going on with you and how do you take it?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, we fought civil wars in both countries, right? So there’s no way by which we can assume it. People hold very passionate feelings on these kinds of issues. So my characterization of history that I just gave you, at least half the Vietnamese people in the United States would vehemently disagree with what I just said. They’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, the United States fought a war in our country, but we wanted them there. And it’s against communism, and those are the real bastards in this situation. So I think that I made up my mind from an early time that yes, I’m Vietnamese, but what that means is a very conflicted thing. And when meanings are in conflict, I’m going to choose the meaning that’s true to me and if there are Vietnamese people who disagree with me, then I’m going disagree with them.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And this is for me a very liberating thing, because I think a lot of younger Vietnamese Americans, for example, feel very deeply obligated to their families, their parents, their communities. They feel a strong sense of filial obligation and the desire to represent a community they feel is disempowered, which means that they themselves are disempowered because they feel like they can’t speak up on certain issues that will cause controversy, especially from the elders. And I have no problems with that. I have no problems with getting in the face of Vietnamese people, young or old there in Vietnam or here who disagree with me. I don’t like it. I mean, I’m personally a person who does not like confrontation, but in my writing I’m very confrontational. And I think that that’s my version of the writerly task.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Not everyone has to do this, but my version of the writerly task is about trying to seek the truth no matter how painful it is to me or to the Vietnamese people, or in the case of the sympathizer, as you said, the joke is on him. So there’s a lot of jokes being directed. He punches upwards with his satire, but ultimately he’s the one being punched by history itself. And I think hopefully that’s what makes the books palatable because if it was just him constantly flogging the object of his derision, it might get a little bit tiresome. But I think we’re hopefully on his side as well, because we realize how vulnerable he is to these jokes that are being played on him.

Min Jin Lee: Well, I think a stateless person, a nameless person is actually a very tragic figure, right?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Min Jin Lee: I didn’t think in any way that he didn’t deserve our sympathy. So the irony of being called a sympathizer and also basically a traitor.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, the sympathizer stands in for all those people who feel uncomfortable being put into an either or a situation, right? That’s what wars and colonization… That’s the narrative that drives them, us versus them, choose your side. If you’re not with us, you’re against them. These very, very common narratives that I think Americans are also obviously deeply familiar with. But if you’re Vietnamese, you’re very familiar with them as well because of communism in the Cold War, you had to choose a side. And a sympathizer is yes, as you say, a collaborator, a fellow traveler with a communist party, which is bad, bad, bad for Vietnamese and for Koreans and for Americans, but a sympathizer as the name implies is also someone who’s capable of feeling sympathy or really empathy, but the empathizer is a terrible title.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So the capacity to feel sympathy and empathy is also a capacity that writers and readers share. So there’s a way in which the novels are also very much about literature, about reading and writing and the capacity to feel for, and other, especially the other who is our opposite or our enemy. And those types of feelings are exactly what nationalistic and militaristic narratives want to discourage. And that’s the tragedy of our sympathizer. He’s chosen a side, but he’s also someone who feels sympathy even for the people who he’s opposed to, even for the people who want to kill him.

Min Jin Lee: Yeah, I know. This is one of these very difficult things about being a novelist, is that you do really see the arguments for every single person and you know that things are not binary. But I want to talk to you about… Which is related to this, about this whole idea of a colonized mind. Right? Because I’ve heard you talk about revolution. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Viet wants revolution, actually and so do I. So when you think about revolution, can you tell me what you think for you the outcome should be? Are you talking about liberation? Are you talking about decolonization? Are you talking about all of us holding hands and singing? What are you thinking about?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, The Committed takes on this… Okay. One of the reasons why I wanted to write a sequel to The Sympathizer is that The Sympathizer is a novel about the communist revolution that we’re all familiar with, which is a violent revolution and partly out of necessity because they were the colonizers or themselves violent. And in The Sympathizer at the end of the book he’s disabused of that particular revolution, the Vietnamese communist revolution. So I wanted to ask the follow-up question, what does a revolutionary do who’s still committed to revolution, but his revolution has failed? So that’s what The Committed is about. I think The Committed is a very violent novel. There’s a lot of violent things that happen in this book. But in the end it’s also a book that takes on the question of nonviolence.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And this to me was very important because when I was in college and thinking about these questions of revolution and reading Frantz Fanon who I interrogate here. In The Committed, I mean, it was all about violence. We got to use violence. We have no choice but to use violence. We’re forced into this situation because of our oppressors. And the arguments of Fanon are canonical and very seductive and I just try to turn them on his head because-

Min Jin Lee: Especially when you’re young. Especially when you’re young.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Especially when you’re young, right? And-

Min Jin Lee: [crosstalk 00:21:59] and I remember thinking when I was in my 20s like, “That sounds great,” and I’m like, “Now I don’t know. I have a son.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But now we are both over 30. So maybe we’re not to be trusted by anybody under 30 when you’re [inaudible 00:22:10]. But I mean, I try to interrogate Fanon by saying, “Everything he says about violence could be said about nonviolence.” So for example he says, “Violence purifies us from the toxicity of colonization, from being colonized psychologically and makes us into men.” So I say, “Well, nonviolence could possibly do the same thing.” And what would the advantage be for non-violence? Is that it would break the mirror image that colonization produces. I mean, this is one of the tragedies of colonization and decolonization, is that in the act of decolonizing, of having a violent nationalist revolution, and then you create this post-colonial state, we’ve seen over and over that it often repeats the same structures of domination that came before except now, as I say at the end of The Sympathizer, we don’t need the French or the Americans to fuck us. We can fuck ourselves just fine. And that’s the tragedy-

Min Jin Lee: I’m seeing it right now. I’m seeing it in America. I just can’t get over it. And oh golly. So I was so curious since we’re going to take on everything and about all power plays. There is a lot of religion in both your works, a discussion of religion. And I haven’t heard you talk that much about it. I’ve heard you talk about it in a non-fiction setting, about your faith system and how you grew up. And I was just curious, how do you want to talk about the relationship of religion and colonialism?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I was raised by very devout Catholics, by my parents who invested a lot of time and money making sure I would become a good Catholic, church and school, and all that. And lo and behold, I turned out to be a Marxist atheist. Who knew? I have no idea, but I think the reason why this happened… I cannot explain why I did not get the faith that my parents had. And I think partly it’s because how do you determine faith? I mean, to me, the great mystery of faith is that it’s not… There are logical arguments for it, but at core faith is not logical. Faith is a feeling and I just didn’t find the feeling in myself for God and for the church, Catholic church. But I think what I did absorb was the idea that at the heart of Catholicism, the one that I grew up with was a call for justice. Jesus, outside of the Catholic tradition, Jesus is a revolutionary.

Min Jin Lee: Completely.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I mean, he’s at the least a socialist. At very least is a socialist.

Min Jin Lee: I think Paulo [Freire 00:24:33] makes this very clear.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Right. Absolutely. And that’s why we have liberation theology, which I’m hoping to take on in the third book. But I think what I absorbed [crosstalk 00:24:40] was that… Well, I hope so. He has to get to Latin America. I got to find a way to get him there, but it’s part of the fun of being a novelist. So justice, commitment to others, sacrifice, martyrdom, I believe in all that stuff, I just don’t believe in the Pope and Catholic priests. All right. And then the reason why this becomes important in colonialism is… I mean, part of the point that The Committed and The Sympathizer are making is that these revolutions all tend to look alike under the surface. They have different idols, different commandments, different sacred texts, and all that kind of stuff.

Min Jin Lee: And sacrifices.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And sacrifices and martyrdom but Catholicism and communism what they share is a very utopian world view, especially a utopia that is not here. You got to go to heaven for the Catholics and for communism, it’s like, “Well, just wait. I mean, I know it looks bad. I know the cadres, they have all this money now in the name of of communism, but just wait, we’ll get to this Marxist idea, but it’s going to take a long time to get there.” So there’s all that postponement of the utopian fulfillment as well. And that is something that The Sympathizer comes to understand.

Min Jin Lee: And I was just curious if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between Bon and the nameless narrator.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. So they’re blood brothers, they’re best friends. They and Man, the third part of their triad came together as young students at the least say the high school in Saigon that was for the best and the brightest, coming from different backgrounds and so on. Bon was a village boy. And Man is the son of a dentist. And our narrator is also very poor. His mother is a very poor, illiterate Vietnamese girl and his father is a French priest who basically molested his mother. So our narrator is caught in between Man and Bon. And Bon is a complete anti-communist. He sees the world completely in a black and white fashion. So if you’re an anti-communist, you got to die in Bon’s vision because communists killed his father.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And he doesn’t know that our narrator, the sympathizer and Man have become communists. They are underground cadre. This really did happen in Vietnamese society, secret cells and all that kind of thing. [crosstalk 00:27:05]. Yeah. But before that happened, these three had found friendship as outsiders at this say, and in a very romantic homosocial moment, sliced their palms, swore blood oath. Yeah, exactly. And committed themselves to eternal fraternity and brotherhood, blood brotherhood. And I think these notions are very important to Vietnamese men. And I think maybe they’re part of Asian legends that I grew up watching, very homosocial blood brotherhoods of Vietnamese boys and men. The men definitely had it and the boys were aspiring to it.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And so I just grew up with this image of sacrificial Vietnamese men who loved each other more than they loved women, honestly, as far as I could tell. I mean, you got married, you had a family, but you spent all your time in the cafes smoking and drinking and hanging out with your buddies or in the pool halls. And that’s where the real love was, right? And I saw this also in John Woo movies. So all of that is infusing this triad of tragically bound blood brothers who love each other, but are also going to be driven apart by politics.

Min Jin Lee: I believe the street expression I’ve heard which I don’t agree with is bros before hoes. That’s not me saying it. I’m just repeating what I heard.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: That’s actually really accurate for the Vietnamese men that I know.

Min Jin Lee: No. And that was a little pun in there too about Vietnam. But I was just curious about… I haven’t heard anybody talk about the bromance in The Committed because it’s really present, but I also was curious to you as a novelist and thinking how did you split all the characters and what were you trying to say? Because you can definitely see the allegory of you have the Vietnamese woman, you have the priest, you have the molestation, you have the product of it, you have the colonialism, the postcolonialism, and then also the betrayal. And then who does this product of a colonial history… To whom should he be loyal? Right? He ends up being loyal to Bon. And to me that was really interesting. And I was curious, what was the allegory for you? What was your intention about this relationship?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I think it’s going to be constantly torn. Bon represents one side of this anti-communist division of the country, and Man represents the other side and equally committed Man, a very symbolic person in his own right. And I don’t think I’m giving away too much. Well, Man does appear in The Committed, obviously the triad is going to continue through this book. And he’s also equally damaged, right? They’re all damaged in different ways by the war, by their choices, by history. And so part of the point of these books and it reflects what I sense is that no one got away cleanly from this war. Everybody was damaged.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even if you go to Vietnam and say, “Okay, well, look, the cadres won, the communists won, they have the wealth and the power and everything,” but arguably that’s a kind of damage too. They have the material wealth and power, but are they spiritually damaged in some way? Is the country still damaged because it hasn’t fully addressed it’s inequalities and colonial legacies. And that’s what Man is there to embody into and to represent the victor, who is also… He has no face-

Min Jin Lee: That’s right.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: … because of what’s happened, right? So they’re all suffering in their own ways and each of them will pay a price.

Min Jin Lee: Did you want this to be seen as a moral allegory?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that I wanted the novel to work in two levels. One is as a semi-realistic fiction where there’s a plot and… But the other one is as an allegory, as a political commentary. And again, the novel for me that was so definitive was Invisible Man, because it was very much the story of one person and his adventures and misadventures, but it was also about the entire black experience at the same time and about very specific kinds of political events in black history. And so I wanted The Sympathizer and The Committed to function in both ways as thrillers, but also as these political allegories as well for the Vietnamese.

Min Jin Lee: But also so beautiful to read, so deeply absorbing. And I think that’s incredibly important because I don’t think we have the right to bore readers.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: That’s a great way of putting it, right? I mean, I think we do have an obligation to readers, and I just want to say boring is a very subjective term though, because I do love thrillers. I do love books with plots. I also love books in which nothing happens. But the books I love in which nothing happens, it’s very deliberately done. The writer knows that he or she is setting out to do this. The books in which nothing happens where the writer doesn’t have a good command of plotting, that’s a different issue altogether. But I think you’re right.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: We have a right to be compelling to our readers, however when we choose to define that. And so in this case I just wanted to maximize the possibilities of these so-called genre of the spy thriller, and the crime thriller to entertain the readers because I like to be entertained, but there’s also a lot of serious stuff being slipped in there with the jokes and the philosophizing as well.

Min Jin Lee: Well, I think that your works are so beautiful to read and they’re so absorbing. And I think that the care and the love that you put into them are very present in every sentence. So I really congratulate you for the work that you’re doing and I want you to keep writing. So you’re going to have to choose between the tour and the writing.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I’m glad this will be over soon enough and we can get back to the writing. I do have a book that’s been interrupted.

Min Jin Lee: Well, it’s very funny. I don’t know if Shane knows this, but I have a connection to Missouri, which leads me to my next question. So I wouldn’t be in America if it wasn’t for the state of Missouri, because my uncle, Uncle John came to the United States when he was 23 as a foreign student at Central Missouri University. He studied history and he wanted to be a journalist and he ran out of money and that didn’t happen. And he went to New York and he eventually invited his sister, my mother. And that’s how I ended up here. So whenever I think about Missouri, I always feel this kind of sense of like, “Wow, if it wasn’t for Missouri, I wouldn’t be here.”

Min Jin Lee: And I was just curious going back to you, in terms of your family connection to the United States. We have this whole sense of, “We are grateful to be here,” and yet we are also upset to be here because we are aware of the complex histories. And I was just curious, what is your take on the grateful immigrant, the complex immigrant and also the truthful immigrant?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. Well, I think the grateful immigrant is certainly how the older generation of Vietnamese see themselves. And I can totally sympathize. You arrive in this country as an older person, 30, 40 years old, you’ve lost everything, you’ve been taken in by this country and your English is not necessarily that great. So you probably have very complex feelings actually, but are you able to articulate them in a way whereby you can defend yourself? And of course, I think this has been well remarked upon, but an adult arrives in this country fully formed and then is reduced to an infantile status because of their lack of capacity in the dominant language here.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And so it’s easier just to be grateful. It’s easier just to say thank you and smile and hide everything else, all the complexities, all the pain that brought you here, but that you also witness with the fact that you’re raising children and they’re growing distant from you for a number of different kinds of reasons. And then for us, for me, for example, [inaudible 00:34:38] generation, born elsewhere, raised here, there’s a temptation to be grateful because I think we understand either explicitly or implicitly that the path to assimilation in this country is going to be a lot easier if we constantly express gratitude and affirm the American dream.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The other two adjectives you brought up were complex and truthful and that’s something that Americans as a whole or people of any country take for granted that they can be. We can always be complex and truthful towards our country. That’s what’s expected of us as citizens, I think. So why can’t the immigrant or the refugee also be complex and truthful as well? And that’s the assertive claim that I think you make, that I make, that it’s possible to hold… What Fitzgerald said, to hold two opposite ideas in your mind at the same time, grateful to be here, grateful to be able to write and to publish in this country which I couldn’t do in Vietnam, for example. Congratulations. I think Pachinko is a bestseller in Korea, and I think it’s been translated and published in Vietnam.

Min Jin Lee: Yes.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The sympathizer is not allowed to be published in Vietnam. So I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Min Jin Lee: It’s really heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking when I hear that because my first book was not published in the same way Pachinko has been. And actually my first book I actually love more, significantly more than Pachinko for multiple reasons. But anyway, and seeing it took four years for Pachinko to be a best seller in South Korea. And what was really strange is people… And I want to get back to this whole idea of global production of ideas by immigrants, because that’s what we’re doing. We’re actually talking about our countries of origin in English, the lingua franca, and also the master colonial language.

Min Jin Lee: And because we have a command of the English language, we actually get more attention globally. So if we were writing actually in our ethnic origin languages, we probably would not get the same level of attention. And I’m very aware of that. And I find that to be… And I want to own it. I want to own the fact that that’s not fair.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. Yeah.

Min Jin Lee: Right?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think things are maybe changing a bit for the Korean content. I think what you’re saying is absolutely true over the last few decades, but now of course, with the rise of Korean power, K-pop and the emergence of either really good or I don’t know what you would say, but effective translators for Korean literature, we’re seeing some increased visibility for Korean literature itself. But with Vietnamese I’m absolutely aware this is still true. That if I was someone writing in Vietnamese, my chances of getting my book translated well and published abroad would be really, really limited. So it’s one of the ironies of this whole situation that as you’re saying that the immigrant or migrant or diaspora writer, whatever you want to call them, writing in this imperial language of English has greater access because of the power of the United States versus those writers coming from their countries of origin, which were bombed by the United States, again, the ironies [crosstalk 00:37:46] that colonialism produces.

Min Jin Lee: Yeah. Well, I have to say that about Korea’s production of its culture, its soft power is a highly orchestrated one by the government, which means that the artists who they choose to send out have been vetted by the government. They’re not saying things that are deeply critical of colonialism or imperialism and as much as I admire and am proud of some of the culture that’s coming out, I can’t honestly say that it’s a feminist message or certainly it’s not an anti-capitalist message. And I’m very grateful. I’m grateful that in America I can talk about it. I think that we’re supposed to turn it over to the audience because we’re dying to hear from you that’s why we’re here. And Viet is here and you guys can ask him questions.

Shane Mullen: All right, I’m back. Hello. First off, I loved this conversation. This is so good. Thank you both so much. The audience is loving it as much as I am. I do want to mention that Kris Kleindienst, the co-owner of the store is here and says, “Thank you, Viet and Min for gracing our Left Bank Books airwaves. Such an honor.” So I want to start there. But we have a lot of questions and audience be sure to type up more. We’re going to start with a question from Riley. This is for both of you. “So throughout The Sympathizer and The Committed haunting is a big theme, in Pachinko as well. As a reader I felt certain characters went through haunting. Can you elaborate on what haunting means in writing about immigrants and refugees specifically for the Asian community in more broadly? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: You first, Min.

Min Jin Lee: Okay. Ladies first. I feel like I’m haunted person. I’m traumatized still by so many aspects of immigration. And my father was a war refugee. He lost his entire family in North Korea when he was age 16. I have family in North Korea now. And my mother’s from the South. So I come from two divided parts of a country and this division was done by Americans. And I think that as a consequence of this and because it’s so often denied, I mean, I think the biggest gaslighting that occurs to people who are immigrants is we pretend this doesn’t exist by not teaching it. And so for me I have to acquire all this knowledge because I don’t want to be haunted anymore. So part my production of new information and knowledge is to exorcize these sorts of demons. And I’m aware of that.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I think my answer is very similar, but I’ll just take in a slightly different [inaudible 00:40:49] which is part of the gratifying response to my writing has been to encounter younger Vietnamese people, or even people my age, Vietnamese Americans who say, “Wow, we’re haunted too. Our family’s haunted or traumatized by this, this and this.” We don’t get to talk about it within our families. We don’t get to talk about it within our communities. We don’t get to see it very often even in books. I think you’re implying, Min, to name the haunting that’s taking place because otherwise we’re just privately haunted, privately tormented by these ghosts and by these losses and by these absences. And we just feel like we’re… Number one, that we’re in pain, but number two, that we’re alone because no one else is experiencing this.

Viet Thanh Nguyen:

Because if we’re talking about the history of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, if you only had access to the way that dominant American culture talks about it, you would be rightfully if you were Vietnamese or Korean, feel that you are erased from these histories and the complexities of your family experience is not there. And so it’s really crucial, I think, to carry out this discussion of haunting in public, in literature and in movies and so on. So that one of the ways that we can even hope to dispel the haunting, if that’s something we want to do, the only way we can do it is by talking about it, because I’m just going quote the sociologist, Avery Gordon, when a ghost appears, it’s a sign that an injustice has been committed and the ghost is appearing to demand justice for what has made the ghost into a ghost. And I think that’s what our literature does.

Min Jin Lee: That’s so important to say that. I mean, it’s so important to talk about the fact that this ghost demands justice. Well, I mean, you could look at Hamlet, but I was thinking a lot about Freud when that which has not spoken will be acted out. So I teach at a college and also I talk to university students around the world and I can’t get over how much damage children feel from being erased and from being haunted. And also the trauma keeps carrying over to the next generation. So part of the reason why I do speak out and I don’t like speaking out is because I want them to realize that it’s real, what they’re going through is absolutely real. So before they drink, smoke, gamble, sleep with the wrong people, maybe they can just talk about the fact that they’re hurt.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Shane Mullen: I think that ties into Vicki’s question. So Vicki is asking, “Can you elaborate more on the feeling of not belonging anywhere, including within your own community, family? How has that influenced your writing and creativity?”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that’s addressed to me, but Min can also answer if [crosstalk 00:43:34] needed, but I mean, I’ve talked a lot about that feeling of perpetual displacement, starting from that anecdote about being a spy everywhere I happen to be. And I mean, I just felt very uncomfortable growing up in San Jose, California as soon as I became aware of myself. I initially started off in Harrisburg and I was happy in Harrisburg, left when I was 7, end of the happy years. Going to San Jose and feeling that sense of cultural displacement and distancing from my parents, but also having the typical immigrant experience or refugee experience of just seeing my parents work themselves nearly to death and paying the emotional consequence for that at home in terms of distance from their children.

Viet Thanh Nguyen:

And then in particular going out into a larger society as a Vietnamese person, as an Asian person, and just being bombarded by long distance racism through American movies, American music, American pop culture in which Vietnam was obviously an American drama and Vietnamese and Asians had no role to speak about and we had nothing to say. So I think that I felt personally displaced at home and I felt displaced in the larger American culture, led to a whole Welter of feelings that Min and I talked about at the beginning. And one emotion that we didn’t talk about, anger. I was very angry about all this kind of stuff.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And I have to say that literature was the salvation, the library, the books, the stories, all of that was a means of trying to cope with the actual story of my life that was too painful to deal with. I think this is also common for writers, you’re displaced, but you feel a place in literature and in the writing. As painful as the writing is and can be, it is a place to try to deal with these ghosts and with these displacements. I have to say that I do now feel at home in my house. I hope this is not the end of my career as a writer. I think about that sometimes, “You’re just so fat and happy,” as one of my students said to my face. I say, “Okay. All right. That possibly is true.” But that’s why in the writing I try to keep that sense of displacement alive.

Shane Mullen: Susan’s question which also ties in very well to that, “In thinking about the revolution, what is your advice for emerging Asian American writers?”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Oh, they related questions. Well, Min, why don’t you start with this one?

Min Jin Lee: Oh, gosh, I don’t know what an emerging Asian American writer is, but I think I know what she means, I think. I think it’s a really tough road and I’m going to be really honest because I care about you and I care about you in the same way I would want the truth told to me. We are living in a disintermediated media economy, which means that you’re having a winner take all economy. You are seeing right now writers get completely damaged by a brutal, brutal economy of book production. You have four publishers with a couple of imprints. You have a couple of star agents. You have a couple of writers who are getting access. And right now you are seeing so many Asian American books come out at this moment. And people are being treated very badly actually. I mean, young Asian American writers that I know are coming out with books are being treated very badly and their merit and their worth is being discounted all the time.

Min Jin Lee: So I want you to be prepared for this. Be prepared for the fact that you’re going to have a racist, horrible environment of other writers around you saying, “Oh, you got published because you’re Asian or you got attention because you’re Asian,” because the reality is, that is absolutely not true. It is so difficult to get published. If they get published it’s because they were fucking great and still it’s really hard to break out of the pack. So I say all this not to scare you, but I want to prepare you for your heartbreak. And yet, if you really want to write, you’re going to write anyway. No one can stop you.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Holy shit. I’ll say something a little more optimistic in that case. I think you’re right obviously, and it’s connected to the revolutionary part of the question that began, that writing itself is not insulated from the politics that we’ve been talking about. Writing is for many writers caught up in this whole capitalistic enterprise of book production and book sales that are being taken over by conglomerates and all of that. So there’s no escape anywhere, really from the depredations of capitalism and alienation. So that even if you fulfill your artistic dream and get your book published, which if you’re an aspiring writer is everything, and then all this other stuff happens that Min has talked about.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Okay. So that’s the bad stuff. So I will say on the positive side, the positive side is… When I was trying to be a writer, to see a book by an Asian American writer was a gigantic deal. That only happened once a year at the most, right? In the ’90s. And now obviously we’re seeing a book a week at the very least. I mean, there’s so many young Asian American writers out there. So as bad as it might be just to be one of these so-called young Asian American writers, and you’re just another widget or something in this commodity world, nevertheless there’s an increasing cohort of people out there doing things that I think are so unpredictable. There are some things that are predictable, but there are a lot of things that are not predictable. That gives me hope that it liberates us at least in our artistic function, not our capitalist function to tell a whole new different set of stories.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And I’m excited about that part because I think that I am over 30, much over 30, and my worldview has been shaped indubitably by the refugee stuff I’ve been talking about, but also by this Asian American movement stuff that was really formative to me. And maybe that’s not true for a new generation. I mean, maybe a new generation is coming up with a completely different understanding of themselves, including what it means to be Asian American. And that I find some hope in, that from that we’re going to get some really incredible writers and incredible books out there. But we’re not going to get them unless you write. And I’m not just saying this facetiously or just to be sentimental about, “Oh, everybody should be a writer.” No, I think what Min is saying is absolutely correct. Writers have no choice.

Min Jin Lee: Yeah.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I mean, my advice to you is if you could do anything else, don’t be a writer. I mean, don’t. I have put in at least 10,000 hours to be a writer. If I put in 10,000 hours to be a banker, I’d be rich at this point. And the chances are that if I put in 10,000 hours as a banker, the odds of getting rich are actually not bad, but you put in 10,000 hours as a writer, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a book published. And even if there is, you may not be happy with it. So you really have to do it. It’s not just a matter of liking the idea of being a writer or liking the idea of whatever you think the fantasy of a writer’s life is. All that stuff is not important. The only thing that’s important is being compelled to sit there to write. And if you cannot walk away from that, congratulations, you’re damned to be a writer.

Shane Mullen: This is my tack onto this question because you did mention that you were not able to be published in Vietnam. But I’m wondering, do you consider it to be not easier? But without the racism, do you find it easier for Asian authors to be published in translation because they aren’t having to deal with that racist aspect of dealing with the publishing industry here in America? Or do you feel like it’s the same?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Asian writers from Asia being translated into English here in the United States? Is it easier for them than Asian American writers to be published?

Shane Mullen: Maybe since they aren’t dealing with that racism of the publishing industry.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I’m not sure. I mean, we have to get into the statistics, but I think the basic statistic is something like only 3% of American books every year are translations, right? So you have to hold that figure in comparison to the other figure of how hard it might be for a writer of color or an Asian American to get published here. I really don’t know if there’s one or the other that’s easier.

Min Jin Lee: Also I think that whatever you write and whatever books that you can send out on the world, we are really dealing with the fact that there are readers who are committed and passionate. And books take a really long time to market. I think we’re not talking enough about that. I serve on the Authors Guild and also in Penn America and one of the things that I can’t get over is a subsistence level of writers. So unless they’re teaching, most writers can’t live on what they sell. Most first books are 2,000 copies. And if they’re lucky, if they’re lucky, these advance and then also now in the age of data analysis, they know exactly how many books you sell.

Min Jin Lee: So if you don’t sell enough books, then your second book will just never work. And I think all it is going on. So for me, I think that it’s exciting for me to see Substack, it’s exciting for me to see journalists take on new ways of reaching readers that they have. I think you have to almost control your own audiences and try to engage with the audiences that you have. So the definition of anger is a form of re-empowerment because you feel powerless. I think that writers just generally we’re a very angry lot. And I think what we’re trying to do is re-empower ourselves and I want to encourage writers to do so. And I think that whether it’s in translation from abroad or here, I think writers really can’t be stopped. That’s one of the things that I really admire about writers. If you’re really meant to be a writer, you’re going to do it.

Shane Mullen: All right. We have several questions about Free Food for Millionaires. So I do want to quickly talk about this.

Min Jin Lee: We have to talk about The Committed.

Shane Mullen: I know. I’m going to throw this in very quickly because I do also want to talk about The Committed. But so many people said that they also love Free Food for Millionaires.

Min Jin Lee: Thank you.

Shane Mullen: But two people want to know and I’m certain a few more want to know why you prefer one over the other and if so, when did you decide the start or the end of the process?

Min Jin Lee: Oh, I think just to answer very quickly, I think I love Free Food for Millionaires more because it is my indictment of capitalism. That is the reason why I wrote that book. It is my understanding of class. Very often people talk about the immigration or the autobiographic aspects of the book, which is funny because there’s no relationship between me and the narrator. The narrator is actually named after a young woman who died in 9/11, which is not even in the book, but it was something that inspired me. But going back to my critique of capitalism, that’s the reason why I wrote the book. I think it’s a book that is a much more global book, but I ended up writing Pachinko for 30 years because I was so obsessed with racism and how xenophobia could be such a hateful, invisible monster force around the world. And I think that’s something that the Viet and I really constantly take on.

Shane Mullen: Okay. Brandon says, “Your writings make me think about nation state’s use of specific biopolitical mechanisms to uphold power, particularly white supremacy as it is reconfigured through the pursuit of modernity.” And the question is, do you see there being space in your writings to connect this to other aspects under gyving white supremacy, such as anti-blackness and settler colonialism or collective liberation?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I think on the question of nation states, first thing to say is that Vietnam is a nation state, reunified nation state, fought a colonial war and war of independence against white supremacy in French colonization in the American war and yet after so doing, it repeats many of the same problems that we find in other nation states, whether they happen to be vehicles of white supremacy or in this case, not being run by white people. So the white supremacy issue is not separate from… Is completely integral with the nation state itself. You have these new nation states, where you have nation states like China that have their own set of problems that are due to the concentration of power in the state and the classes that are invested in that.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But coming back to the United States, I think one of the reasons why the Asian American project and the refugee project and the narrative of gratitude can be very problematic is because they’re invested in the nation state. You come here as an immigrant… And if you come here as a refugee you rename yourself as an immigrant because people don’t want to know about the history that made you as a refugee. So you rename yourself as an immigrant and you become a part of this country and you become a citizen or your children do. And you affirm the narrative of the American dream which affirms the nation state, but which also affirms everything that went into making the nations state, which is white supremacy, anti-blackness, genocide, colonization, all these terrible things that are not unique to the United States.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: A lot of nation states are built on terrible things. And they’re also unified along with the United States in wanting to forget that they’re built on these terrible things and immigrants are function. One of our functions, outside of the economic our function narratively is to help the nation state forget because we’re here to serve as the alibi. Americans could say, “Oh, look, look, we took in the immigrants, we took in the refugees.” It’s testimony to American exceptionalism, which means we don’t have to think about colonization, genocide, et cetera. And the immigrant comes in as a settler as well. And the immigrant also has to forget that they’re here with…

Viet Thanh Nguyen: As bad as the immigrant experience might be, you also get some privileges because you’re not black or at least immigrants who are not black are not black, and you’re not definitely not an indigenous to this country. And so the immigrant experience is built on these pre-existing and continuing histories of colonization and genocide and the ongoing project of anti-blackness as well. So the nation state is a difficult part of whether it’s in Asia or here in the United States.

Shane Mullen: All right. Quick, last question, I think we can sneak this in. Silver is asking, “How do you shake the haunt and/or how do you sit down and talk with it?”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Sit down and what?

Shane Mullen: Talk with it.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Talk with it. Okay. Min, do you want to answer that one first?

Min Jin Lee: Well, I think the awkwardness of talking with the haunting… Is that what the question is, haunting?

Shane Mullen: Yeah, I think it’s going back to-

Min Jin Lee: Yeah, I think. So first of all, I think naming it is very, very powerful. I think admitting it, and I think going through the difficulty and the awkwardness of trying to engage with it is really the first step. One of the things that I try to encourage my students to do is to just state it, just to put it in writing first. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s at least approaching the subject matter. And I think it’s terribly important. And as a matter of fact, there is an upside and the upside is your most powerful work will come from the things that haunt you. And if you invest in the energy of writing, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, which is what you have to do to publish, if you want to keep a diary, that’s fine.

Min Jin Lee: But if you actually want to publish, you’re going to have to rewrite numerous times and reshape. And also you have to learn the craft of telling the story, which means if you can figure out what that ghost is and figure out what haunting process is all about, it’s possible that you could reach your most powerful subjects. And that is really worth going through all that pain.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: In the conventional ghost story, like a horror movie, you can put the ghost to rest because you got to bring the movie to an end. People want resolutions and all of that, right? And maybe that’s true for particular individual experiences, particular individual traumas that are unique to you and your family or your circle, that you can put that to rest if you confront it. And everything Min said is true. You have to name it, you have to acknowledge it. You have to talk to it. Whether that’s with a therapist or whether it’s with your circle or whether it’s in your art, there’s ways of fully trying to confront that. And one way that I put it is going back to that idea of the emotions that I feel as a writer, where you’re haunted is within. And it’s easier in some ways to think about the ghost that’s outside and the horror movie, but really the ghost is inside for many of us. And that’s very hard to find.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So you have to interrogate yourself. And again, it’s something that most sane people don’t want to do. They’d rather live with the haunting than try to go inside and to confront it. And another way to think about this, given in my answer to the previous question is perhaps the haunting cannot be dispelled. If these ghosts are themselves the manifestations of things like colonization and genocide and slavery and all that, they’re still here. I mean, we’re still living with these histories. So only in the most superficial way can we say, “We’re going to be able to put the ghosts of these crimes to rest,” when we are not yet able to confront the way that these histories are still embedded materially in our lives and everywhere around us.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And this is why writing is really crucial to name these ghosts, to show these histories and so on. But writing itself I think cannot dispel the ghosts because the ghosts are embedded in these material histories and inequities that are still with us all around us. That’s why going back to the question of revolution, you need the revolutions as well if you have any hope of dispelling these ghosts and these hauntings in the long run. Writing is only one part of that.

Min Jin Lee: I love that answer so much because one of the things that I see with young people is they feel like, “If I make art, will that be enough?” And I think art and politics, and also a politicized identity… And I think a lot of young people these days are really afraid to become politicized and heaven forbid, radicalized. And I always think it might save your life. It might save your life to see that there are structural issues. There’s a historical issue behind the things that’s really troubling you.

Shane Mullen: I want to thank you both for this incredible conversation. For the audience, I know a lot of you have books on the way, so be very, very, very excited to read the book. It is as brilliant as The Sympathizer. It’s more brilliant than a ton of books. It is so, so good. And I’m so incredibly happy that you were able to have this conversation for us this evening. It was brilliant. I was cheering. I was just so excited to hear everything that you had to say tonight and I know our audience was as well. They are thanking in the comments. We have signed copies available. So if you want to tell your friends, buy a signed copy, you will be one of their favorite people. That’s my rambling way.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Thanks to you, Shane and to Left Bank Books for hosting me. Thanks to the audience for being here and for engaging. I know it’s not the most ideal circumstance for many of us, but especially thanks to Min for just being an incredible interlocutor. We’ve had other conversations, I’ve always been so inspired by them. Always feel like, “God, I got to go right. I mean, I just can’t let this energy go to waste as a result of the ideas that go between us.” So thanks again for engaging.

Shane Mullen: Yeah.

Min Jin Lee: Thank you, Viet. And congratulations to you.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Thanks. Bye, everybody.

Shane Mullen: Bye.

Category: Interviews


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