With insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism, in A Man of Two Faces Viet Thanh Nguyen rewinds the film of his own life. He expands the genre of personal memoir by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son.
At the age of four, Nguyen and his family are forced to flee his hometown of Ban Mê Thuột and come to the USA as refugees. After being removed from his brother and parents and homed with a family on his own, Nguyen is later allowed to resettle into his own family in suburban San José. But there is violence hidden behind the sunny façade of what he calls AMERICA™. One Christmas Eve, when Nguyen is nine, while watching cartoons at home, he learns that his parents have been shot while working at their grocery store, the SàiGòn Mới, a place where he sometimes helps price tins of fruit with a sticker gun. Years later, as a teenager, the blood-stirring drama of the films of the Vietnam War such as Apocalypse Now throw Nguyen into an existential crisis: how can he be both American and Vietnamese, both the killer and the person being killed? When he learns about an adopted sister who has stayed back in Vietnam, and ultimately visits her, he grows to understand just how much his parents have left behind. And as his parents age, he worries increasingly about their comfort and care, and realizes that some of their older wounds are reopening,Profound in its emotions and brilliant in its thinking about cultural power, A Man of Two Faces explores the necessity of both forgetting and of memory, the promises America so readily makes and breaks, and the exceptional life story of one of the most original and important writers working today.
“A kaleidoscopic memoir . . . Deeply personal and intensely political . . . If the author’s criticism is understandably scathing, there is also a mischievous sense of humor . . . Nguyen indisputably captures the workings of a quicksilver and penetrating mind . . . Lyrical and biting, by one of our leading writers.” —Kirkus Reviews
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s A Man of Two Faces is a triumphant memoir that sears through the fog of American amnesia. A vulnerable and scorching mirror to self and to nation, his book explores his family’s ‘epic and quotidian’ struggles as refugees and indicts Hollywood as propaganda that has fed the American war machine and anti-Asian racism. It is a fissured lyric on memory and a clarifying meditation on empire. Every American needs to read this essential book. —Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
“A Man of Two Faces is a searing and sensitive memoir on the long shadow that war casts on those who manage to survive it. This book is a work of love and anger and care and it will resonate with everyone who has lost a home.” —Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans and Conditional Citizens
“A Man of Two Faces is an alchemical feat of memory, history, and theory that beautifully achieves a difficult balance: a bold and searing polemic, it’s at the same time a moving, personal tale. Above all, it’s the story of a son: but what lies at the heart of the son is the mystery of the mother. And what lies at the mystery of the mother is the history of nation, colonization, war. Through his family’s story, Viet Thanh Nguyen renders not only a powerful portrait of America but—perhaps more necessary in our current moment—also an uplifting act of mourning. Simultaneously raw and lucid, haunting and reasoned, A Man of Two Faces opens up groundbreaking ways to speak the nation’s story and a family’s pain.” —Susan Straight, author of Mecca, finalist for the Kirkus Prize