Writer to Writer: Viet Thanh Nguyen in conversation with Alice Pung

Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks on The Committed, TV adaptation, and the publishing industry with Alice Pung for ABC Radio National’s Big Weekend of Books

For too long the Vietnam War has been cast as an American drama. But in his books, The Sympathizer and The Committed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, shows us the complexities and absurdities of the conflict from a Vietnamese perspective. He speaks to Australian author/memoirist and editor Alice Pung (One Hundred Days).

Read the transcript below.

Alice Pung: On Radio National…

Speaker 2: The Big Weekend of Books.

Alice Pung: Hi, I’m Alice Pung. And today I’m so excited to bring you this conversation. Because I’m here with Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen. Viet is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of this book I have here, The Sympathizer, and it’s sequel, The Committed. I’ve read both of these books, and I absolutely love them. And in addition, he’s written a book of short stories called The Refugees.

Alice Pung: All three of these books deal with the idea of being Vietnamese American, and the unique perspective of the Vietnam War that is usually not shown in American literature. Professor Nguyen is a university professor, the Aerol Arnold Chair of English, and a professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. Now, Professor Nguyen, it’s such a great honor to be here to speak to you today.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Hi Alice. No. It’s a real pleasure for me to be here with you too.

Alice Pung: Your book is full of beautiful poetic lines. And one of the lines is that, “Books means something different when we return to them later, leavened by life.” Can you tell us a little bit about your reading influences when you were younger? There’s such a burning energy in both these books, well informed, both The Sympathizer and also The Committed.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I was a voracious reader when I was young, because I grew up as a refugee, and the child of refugee parents, and they were living the typical refugee life. And just working really, really hard in their grocery store and not having any time to spend with their kids. And so my solace was in the library and reading books as a form of escapism. So I read a lot of the classic children’s literature of the 1970s and 1980s, or what was around in the 1970s and 1980s. So things like Curious George and Tintin.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And my son is reading these things too, and reapproaching them as an adult through his eyes, and through my own, I can see that my reactions are different. They’re still very powerful stories, but they bear the legacies of different eras, especially of colonization and racial attitudes, and all of that. So the challenge there, I think, is for me to not deny to my son the power of these stories, but also give him a context for understanding some of their limitations, so that he’s aware of what it is that he’s reading.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So when we read Tintin, for example, we enjoy the story and the drawing and all that. But he’s also I think, increasingly cognizant of what I point out, which is the way that race functions in these books. And then I moved on to young adult literature, and science fiction and fantasy, I read all of the classics like Dune, and Tolkiens, Lord of the Rings, and all these other kinds of words. And then eventually to, quote-unquote, serious adult literature. Like All Quiet on the Western Front when I was 12, and things that were just very age inappropriate. Like Vietnam War literature, like, “Oh, my God, I was reading this Vietnam War literature.” It was full of violence, and murder, and atrocity and rape, and I was 12 years old.

Alice Pung: Were you reading The Sun on the Wall, and books like that?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. And these books made me the writer that I am. So I can’t deny the importance of these works. That they scarred me and marked me, and left me something to grapple with. And imprinted all kinds of terrible and powerful images on me that I never forgot.

Alice Pung: We do tend to censor things for our children, don’t we? We tend to filter them out, and we do it in a good way, you make your son aware of the racism in Tintin. But some people block their children from reading books that are too traumatic, too triggering about war, who have never experienced war. So what do you say to this notion of censorship? It happens a lot in Australia, but predominantly comes from the United States unfortunately.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yes. We are a combination of racism and morality. I am not into this idea of censorship or what we call cancellation now. For example, I read a lot of works, I still do, by authors who would be canceled today. The huge influence on The Sympathizer for example, was Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night, French author, modernist classic of the 1920s. Céline turned out to be a really horrible human being and anti-Semite during World War II of the worst kind. It doesn’t invalidate the book for me. And there’s numerous examples I can point to in that regard.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So I don’t think we really benefit from officially canceling people. If you as an individual don’t want to read a book, that’s your business. But I think there’s also something powerful about reading works that are artistically amazing, and deeply morally flawed. That contradiction between those two things does teach us something about both human nature and about art. And for those of us who are writers or lovers of literature, I don’t think we can shy away from that. Again, it’s not a programmatic thing, obviously, there are some words for some individuals that are so triggering or traumatizing, they can’t deal with those. But again, I shy away from making blanket statements about canceling or censoring entire works.

Alice Pung: Oh, no. Yes. I understand that. I love the nuance of both your books though. Your main protagonist is the man of two faces, and of two cultures, or multiple cultures. Also, it’s a very political book, well, both of them are very political books. And you write quite a bit in The Guardian, and in American publications about the state of being in East Asia, and in America today and just around the world. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, I think that for me, the fact that I’m an Asian American, I don’t know if this term transfers into the Australian context. But the fact that I’m an Asian American has been and is still important to me. Because I grew up in the United States, aware intuitively that I was different in some way from dominant American culture. What I was reading in books, what I was seeing on TV and in the movies, and realizing that implicitly, America was a White country. And so therefore, what was the place for me as someone of Asian descent.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And so to become an Asian American, as I did in college, and to recognize that Asian Americans all have been in the United States for a very long time and have been writing literature in English and have been a part of this country. And fighting for it in different ways was really, really crucial to me. And I think that experience is analogous to the experience a lot of other Asians in non Asian countries, we talk about Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and so on and so forth.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And during the time of COVID, we saw the rise of anti-Asian violence, not just in the United States, but globally as well in all of these countries that are traditionally White, but have had immigrant Asian populations. And then second and third generation and beyond people of Asian descent in these countries. So that sense that people of Asian descent in Western countries are perpetual foreigners, are somehow not included, is a widespread experience. So even though each national experience may be different from the rest, I think we share something in common in that regard.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: In the United States, because we have an increasingly large Asian American population, we’re about 6% of the population right now. And because we’ve been writing English for a long time, I think we do have something to say, vigorously and powerfully that can be hopefully inspirational for other countries where the Asian population is smaller. I think, for example, France, it is a much smaller Asian population. Whenever I talk to people of Asian descent in France, one of the things they emphasize is that, “It’s different here, not just because of the cultural politics of being French, but because there’s so much fewer of us.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But even in France during the COVID moment, the French of Asian descent had to mobilize and say, “We are not a virus.” And so that’s kind of defiance, that kind of mobilization is something that Asian Americans have been doing for over a century. So hopefully people would find something useful in what Asian Americans have been producing culturally and politically.

Alice Pung: Oh, you’ve had a huge influence on Asian Australians. You mentioned disenfranchisement. And I love telling The Committed, there is a particular focus on women this time, in the character of Madeline. There’s always been a focus on the narrator’s mother, who is the first woman in his life. But in The Committed, he has a different relationship with women. He doesn’t exactly change his ways, he’s like Daniel Craig’s James Bond. But there is something that shifts in him, can you explain what’s happened to our narrator?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: In The Sympathizer, I wanted to create, as you said, a version of James Bond, but a very bad version of James Bond. And part of what that means, is that he had to be this Asian spy who was very heterosexual, very masculine, very into women and the objectification of women. And by the end of the novel, he’s completely devastated without giving too much away, when he realizes that all of these impulses that make him into a man, or what he thinks of as a man, are completely implicated in this horrifying system of warfare and colonization that he’s opposed to.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And so he’s wrecked by that realization in many different ways. And in The Committed, I wanted to pick up this narrative and ask, what happens, number one, to a revolutionary who’s been disabused of his revolution? So he’s fallen out of love with communism. But what also happens to a man who is forced to recognize how flawed is heterosexual masculinity is? Because I think that oftentimes wars and revolutions are driven not just by geopolitics and ideologies, but are also driven by the erotic. And by heteronormative politics and by masculinity, all of which is unrecognized because we don’t talk about that, when we talk about wars, officially, or revolutions officially.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But when you read the accounts of soldiers and revolutionaries, and they’re not trying to be political, you realize that, in fact, how they treat women, how they see women, is really crucial to how they’ve constructed their revolutionary or wartime politics. So that’s what happens in The Committed, he’s forced to confront his failures as a man but also the failures of masculinity as a whole. And I thought that was really important for him to address, really important for me as a novelist to address too.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Because in his continuing commitment to the idea of revolution, he’s no longer convinced of communism, but he still believes that revolution to change the world is possible. He recognizes, he’s starting to recognize in The Committed that revolution cannot succeed unless the revolutionaries are aware of their own flaws and failures, and reconstruct themselves as well.

Alice Pung: I love how you just reconstructed this so hilariously, and yet so, look, it was so confronting in that party that they have, The Debauchery Party, I think you know what I’m talking about. Where he’s also an abject character. He’s just a servant in this party, which I reckon does happen in real life too. Do you reckon?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s not a party Alice, it’s an orgy.

Alice Pung: It’s an orgy, okay.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s an orgy, let’s not try it and to see if readers… There’s an orgy at the end, and it’s a totally racist, sexist, orientalist fantasy being carried out by these really powerful White Frenchmen. And our narrator, because he is… It’s too complicated to explain right now. But he ends up playing the role of one of these subjugated oriental man servants, right? Well, I think these things do happen, even though I’ve never been personally invited to one, I believe they happen. So I was inspired, but the case that really inspired me with a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was like one of the most powerful figures in the French Socialist Party.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And when he was in New York City, he was alleged to have sexually assaulted his hotel housekeeper who’s a Black woman. And then as the investigation unfolded, it turns out that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, this leftist, this socialist. He and his rich friends actually had their own circle of very expensive prostitutes that they were having these orgies with. So I personally believe that it’s not far fetched to imagine that there was one step further where these orgies.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Carried out by these liberals and leftists was actually also totally imbued with these colonial colonizing fantasies that a lot of White men have. So that’s what happens at the end. And of course, it’s a very tragic thing that’s taking place, but it’s also so ludicrous. I hope it is actually kind of absurdly funny at the same time, what I’m trying to satirize there.

Alice Pung: Oh, no, it is absurdly funny. I read somewhere that The Sympathizer is going to be made into a film, is that true?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: TV series. Yeah. What happened was, when I was writing The Sympathizer, I had not watched TV for a decade because I was so busy. But then during The Sympathizer, I had a couple of years off, so while I was writing The Sympathizer during the day, at night, I would catch up on all my TV. So I had a decade’s worth of now classic TV to watch, from The Sopranos to The Wire, and Mad Man and so on. And so the serial structure of television really influenced The Sympathizer.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s 26 chapters, all the same length as if they were TV episodes. So it made sense that when it came time to trying to figure out how to adapt The Sympathizer, that we would try to do TV instead of movies. And so the director for the TV adaptation will be the Korean director, Park Chan-wook, who directed Oldboy. Which is an incredible movie and was a huge influence on The Sympathizer. And The Handmaiden, which is also a fantastic movie.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And I thought he would be perfect for this because of his visual imagination. He has a very excessive visual imagination, and he’s really politically aware, and he’s also a director of really violent, absurdist highly sexualized narratives, if you’ve seen those two works. And it was Park Chan-wook’s idea, not mine to cast all of the White male roles. In The Sympathizer, for one, White male actor, another that was a stroke of genius. Yeah. And so did Robert Downey Jr. because he agreed to do that role, so that’s the big news for the TV adaptation. Yeah.

Alice Pung: Oh. It’s official that you’ve shared that with us. So when in your TV series make that massive, epic war movie that’s full of all these White stoic, noble fighters, and a handful of Vietcong soldiers played by the South Vietnamese? Is Robert Downey Jr. going to play all the White people?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Very good question. I don’t know, I assumed you can do all kinds of things with CGI and with film tricks. Eddie Murphy played all the characters for example, in one of those movies, on screen at the same time. So I’m sure it’s very doable.

Alice Pung: And will you make it to Cameo, do you reckon?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I would love to be one of the Vietnamese who gets blown up. I think that’s a fate that a writer deserves in his own movie, is to be dismembered on screen.

Alice Pung: And because I’m mostly a writer for children and young adults, can we talk about this book that you wrote with your son Elliot, The Chicken of the Sea?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Absolutely. Ellison by the way.

Alice Pung: Ellison, all right. Ellison.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. No. I mean Ellison after Ralph Ellison, the novelist. But I’ve raised Ellison in the kind of household that I wish I’d had when I was a kid. Meaning, I wish I’d had a house in which I was surrounded by books, and art and cultural things. My parents, again, were just way too busy to provide those kinds of things. They were busy providing food and shelter, and education, so I don’t blame them at all. But Ellison has grown up with different set of opportunities. And so part of what that means is that he’s grown up with a lot of stories.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And at a young age, he was already drawing and writing his own comic books inspired by Marvel and pirate stories, and so on. And so when he was turning five, I took him to an art colony where writers and artists get together. And he was so inspired by that experience. But on that trip, he just sat down and wrote and drew a comic book called Chicken of the Sea. About four chickens who are just fed up with life on their farm, and they decide to run off and become pirates, when a pirate ship comes by. And I put that on Facebook, and an editor saw it, and she said, “Is this a real thing? Can we publish it?”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And I thought, “Does this mean I can make money off my son? Because I will sell him out in a heartbeat.” And that’s what we did. And as amazing as the story is, because I could never have come up with this story, Ellison’s artistic abilities weren’t quite up to par. So I asked the comic-book artist, Thi Bui, who has done this brilliant comic-book memoir called The Best We Could Do. I think it’s available in Australia.

Alice Pung: Yes. I have it actually, it’s wonderful.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. It’s terrific. And I asked her if she would draw it, she said, “I’m too busy, but I have a very talented 13 year old son, Ian, who can draw it.” And he did, and then Thi did the coloring. So it’s a collaborative effort between the four of us. And I just want to say to the audience, this is a very funny book that has no moral lessons to impart at all. I think I like children’s books that have moral lessons, and I also like children’s books that are just pure fun. And I think this falls in the latter category.

Alice Pung: I love it. Because the Pirates of the Sea, as I think you and Ellison mentioned once, actually, they’re not bad guys for once.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well, they are chickens, yes. So there’s only so much damage that chicken pirates can do.

Alice Pung: I know. That’s true. And did you do all this work with Ellison?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. Before the pandemic hit, we had started to tour, so for example, we went to this bookstore called Elliott Bay in Seattle. And if you’re an American writer, you know that visiting Elliott Bay in Seattle is one of the biggest honors you can get while you’re on a book tour. And he at that time, he was seven by the time we finished the book.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: So here he is seven years old, at Elliott Bay, and he’s just taking it for granted that he’s on this trip, and he stays in this nice hotel, and he gets an audience to come out and he can sign books. And I just hope that he’ll remember sometime in the future that, after he comes to hate me for whatever reason that there was this golden moment when he and dad were on a book tour together.

Alice Pung: I’m pretty certain he won’t hate you. In your two books about the Vietnamese double agent, it’s meant to be a trilogy, is that a trilogy? Or is that just a rumor I read off the internet?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: No. It’s going to be a trilogy. And there will be one third and final novel and no more. Because one of the things I’ve learned from watching TV is, most of the time TV series just go on for way too long. And so there has to be an end to it. Many, many notes I have written that down about this book, I know what’s going to happen. I have to finish this nonfiction book I’m running now in the next couple months, and then I’ll turn my attention to the trilogy, the final part of the trilogy.

Alice Pung: Oh, well, what’s your nonfiction book about?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s about my life. And it’s sort of a memoir about my family and also a lot of cultural and political critique about the United States and race, and many of the issues that we’ve talked about.

Alice Pung: Did you feel like you had to write your two novels before you turned to nonfiction?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yes. I think so. I think I never wanted to write anything like an autobiography or memoir, I felt that my life was not very interesting. But one of the things that’s happened in the last few years is that I’ve written a lot of essays for newspapers and magazines. And gradually, they became more and more autobiographical. Talking about various parts of my life and the relationship to these issues of race and class and politics of the United States and elsewhere.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And I felt that maybe there was something there, maybe my life wasn’t as boring as I thought. Because one of the things I’ve understood as a writer is that everybody’s life can be a story, everybody’s life is actually important. What really matters is how we tell that story. And of course, most people aren’t equipped to be able to narrate their own life in a way that’s interesting to others.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: But there’s drama, in all of our lives, there’s drama, in everything in each of us that has turned us into the people that we are. And when we think about it, if we think about the ways in which we are good human beings or flawed human beings. And for most of us, I think it’s a combination to one degree or another of these things. And the various kinds of traumas and traumas that have made us who we are.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Those are really interesting stories. Each of us has that universal element inside of ourselves that allows other people to see a connection with our own experience. And so the irony is that for me as a writer, I could always see that in other people, and I could see that in fiction, it took a very long time for me to see that within myself.

Alice Pung: It’s hard, isn’t it? To turn the spotlight back on yourself? But you also proudly take on the, when people say, “Oh, you’re an immigrant.” You say, “No. You’re a refugee.” And can you finally, because Australia certainly has a problem with refugees, and it always has. Can you explain why you identify as a refugee?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Yeah. In the United States, the mythology that Americans have of this country, is that it’s a country built on the American dream, and a country built on immigrants. Everybody can come here, unlike other European countries, for example, you’re not held back by anything, and you can become a success. That’s the mythology of immigration. Refugees are different, refugees are forced to flee, refugees come from destroyed countries.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Americans can imagine themselves as immigrants, but they can’t imagine themselves as refugees, because the United States in the American imagination can never be a country that produces refugees, although in fact it has. But we deny that that’s the case. And so for a lot of people who come to the United States as refugees, they learn this very intuitively and they end up calling themselves immigrants. Sometimes deliberately obscuring the difference, but most of the time, I think, just unconsciously obscuring the difference. Because they know that the way to be accepted in the United States is to call yourself an immigrant.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Why I insist on calling myself a refugee, because that is actually what I am. But also, in order to highlight the fact that we still have refugees coming into this country. Now, look what’s happening in Afghanistan, all those people who are trying to flee Afghanistan are refugees. And everything I said is true for how the world regards them. The debate right now is, “Should we take any refugees from Afghanistan?”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: That’s a debate not just in the United States, but it’s a debate in the UK, it’s a debate in Australia. Because refugees come with all these negative connotations about who they are, and where they come from. And I think that the phobia that so many host countries have is, “These people are going to bring some kind of contamination in with them.” Whether it’s a moral contamination, a political contamination, a religious contamination, or other kinds of things that threaten these host countries. Including, I think, the fear that being a refugee is going to be infectious.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: That what these refugees remind host countries of is that they actually are not that far away, given the right catastrophes from producing refugees themselves. So for those of us who have been refugees have been lucky enough to be accepted somewhere and to live our lives in a fashion that has been productive and healthy for ourselves. It’s so necessary for us to acknowledge this refugee history and to proclaim that we should be accepting more refugees.

Alice Pung: And my final question is about this idea of refugees, in literature, in current American literature, or in your case, your books are published worldwide. Is there an openness to receiving and publishing books about refugees, or do publishers generally in America think, “Oh, no. Not another one of these stories?” We’ve had one about the Vietnam War, we need one about Iran, or we need one now about Burma? Because sometimes I get the sense that, if the story has been published before, publishers are reluctant to publish similar ones, which is ridiculous.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: That’s all true. Publishing is corporate, publishing is capitalistic, it chases trends. It believes in niches, it believes in the exhaustion of niches and all of that. So on the one hand, you can have a trend where the refugee is fashionable, which I think is actually what’s happening now. You do see actually quite a few narratives being published in the United States about refugees in various circumstances.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: And then there can be a moment where there’ll be an exhaustion of that fad, just as there was a moment earlier when people didn’t want to hear about refugees. So that is inevitably going to happen. And then the other danger is, simply because the publishing industry, which tends to be liberal, believes that it should give voice to refugees or any other population at a given circumstance, doesn’t mean that it really wants to hear what refugees have to say.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: In other words, publishing wants oftentimes to hear a preconceived narrative about refugees or about any other given population. So in the United States, the narrative that Americans generally want to hear when it comes to immigrants and refugees is, “We came from a terrible place, thank God we’re in America,” that’s the narrative. And if you do anything to disrupt that narrative, as in, “Well, it wasn’t so bad over there.” Or, “Well, it was bad over there because you bombed us as Americans.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Or, “Well, here we’re in the United States, but it’s not so great here.” Or, “Here we’re in the United States, and we recognize that it’s not simply the land of the happy meal, but also the land of colonization and genocide.” That’s going to make a lot of Americans uncomfortable, including the editors and publishers in the publishing industry. So it’s a very complicated scenario, that aspiring refugee writers or people who want to write stories about refugees find themselves in.

Alice Pung: And so how did you get your publisher for The Sympathizer?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: I got very lucky, because everything we’ve been talking about is also true for the so called Vietnam War story, that by the time I was a sympathizer, the American publishing industry had said for decades, “God, we have too many Vietnam War books, no one must read about the Vietnam War.” There was an opening for Vietnamese Americans. But you have to understand that as a Vietnamese American, what we’re expected to talk about is our Vietnamese American refugee experience. In other words, if you want to talk about the war, that’s White people’s territory. The Vietnam War is White people’s experience.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: It’s only the refugee experience that we own. So I wrote a novel about the Vietnam War, from Vietnamese perspectives. And for a novel that really contradicted these American mythologies that we’ve been talking about. And so I think that was one of the key reasons why 13 out of 14 publishers rejected the novel. And the 14th editor who read it and bought it, as it turns out, is not American. Do you know, Peter Blackstock?

Alice Pung: Oh no.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: My brilliant editor, is English and was English educated. And as it turned out, I didn’t find that out until later, but he’s also of mixed race descent, mixed English Malaysian heritage. And I think both of those factors made it possible for him, besides the fact he’s also very smart, to see the novel in a way that was quite different than the way that a lot of White American editors saw this.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Because when you say the Vietnam War in the American context, there’s so much ideology that Americans have about the meaning of this war, that it’s very hard for them to see outside of that context. Just as today, when you talk about Afghanistan and the Afghan war, so many Americans see that war purely through an American perspective. And when you introduce conflicting perspectives from Afghans, it short circuits, American understandings.

Alice Pung: That’s so true. One of my best friends is also Vietnamese, and the war is not the Vietnam War to hurt the American war, that’s what she calls it.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Right.

Alice Pung: It’s always been known as the American war. So it’s so fascinating that you found this wonderful publisher, he was mixed-race descent. Which there’s no clearer reason or rationale for diversity in publishing than what you’ve just told us here today. That it took that one person to recognize that out of the 14 publishers that rejected you. So it says a lot about the publishing world and its diverse makeup, doesn’t it?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Absolutely. And I think that the publishing industry, like every other industry, I don’t think the publishing industry is unique. It says that they believe in diversity and representation, and so they go out and they look for diverse authors, whatever that means. But unless you’re actually willing to change the power structure so that the people who are your editors, and your agents, and your power brokers and so on, the gatekeepers.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Unless they themselves are diverse, you’re never going to have genuine diversity of thought within your industry. And again, it’s true for all the industries out there, which is why the idea of multiculturalism or representation oftentimes it’s just a false facade where they trot out their representatives of color or whatever other form of diversity they’re interested in. But the power is still being held by White people.

Alice Pung: And I think this is the perfect place to leave it, with this thought in our Big Weekend of Books. So thank you so much Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. It’s been actually quite a fun conversation too. Thank you so much.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Thanks Alice, it was a delight.

Alice Pung: Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of The Refugees, The Committed and The Sympathizer, speaking to me, Alice Pung, for Radio National’s Big Weekend of Books.

Category: Interviews

 

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