Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Publishers Weekly | A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, a History, a Memorial Review

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir, A Man of Two Faces, is reviewed by Publishers Weekly

This bold and ambitious memoir from novelist Nguyen (The Committed) employs a dazzling hybrid of prose and poetry to explore the author’s life in America as a Vietnamese refugee. Arriving in the U.S. in 1975, at age four, Nguyen was placed with a different sponsor family than his parents and brother, the first of many perplexing and traumatizing acts inflicted on him by his new homeland. In early sections, Nguyen intersperses stories of his California youth—flush with opportunity, thanks to the sacrifices of his shop owner parents, with whom he was promptly reunited—with pop culture critiques and citations of postcolonial literature. As a young adult, Nguyen pursued an academic, writerly path, and his parents seemed headed for a well-earned retirement. But his mother, who survived a litany of horrors back in Vietnam, suffered a mental break from which she never recovered. Nguyen’s writing about his mother exemplifies the memoir’s self-awareness: he longs to honor her, but worries that doing so on the page is a “betrayal.” Elsewhere, Nguyen’s self-knowledge is employed to funnier ends, as when he skewers the model-refugee memoir with painful precision, laying out a blueprint from “old-world hardship” to “reconciliation” for aspiring practitioners to follow (“For writers hoping to win literary prizes,” he advises, “express reconciliation with great subtlety, mixed with regret and melancholy”). It’s a savvy and complex account of coming-of-age in a foreign land. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Oct.)


More Reviews