Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is a disturbing book, beautifully written,  as well as shocking.

It opens in Saigon in April 1975 in the villa of a General of the South Vietnamese army. His right hand man, the Captain, unbeknownst to the General and anyone else is an undercover Vietcong agent. In the chaos of defeat, the Captain, the General and numerous others flee Vietnam and make it to America where the Captain continues his spying activity. The Captain finds himself in a dilemma and the opening lines hook you in. “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces… I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.”

Reading this gripping Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I felt the constant tug of being in two minds. The Captain is the son of a peasant woman and a French priest which makes for an unhealthy start in life as he is ridiculed and treated as an outsider, eternally in conflict.

Having watched movies and read about the Vietnam War, it has only ever been from a Western point of view. This novel paints a very different picture. In America, the Captain is assigned the job of being a cultural adviser to the director of a movie about the war which we soon realise is Apocalypse Now.

“An audience member might love or hate this Movie, or dismiss it as only a story, but those emotions are irrelevant. What mattered was that the audience member, having paid for a ticket, was willing to let American ideas and values seep into the vulnerable tissue of his brain and the absorbent soil of his heart.”

There are many side observations like this throughout the narrative which makes the reader think and reflect. There are also moments of pure comedy bordering on the ludicrous which is an antidote to the horror of what people are forced to do during a war. The Captain’s torment grows with the ghost of deeds done past and present.

The first half of this book pummels you along, the middle is reflective and as times slow with the end almost unbearable to read. Yet it is an important book for all sides of politics and philosophies.

Put this one your list.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

  1. meredith langford

    I will definitely be reading this. Sounds like I’m in for a tumultuous ride – from being ‘pummeled along’ to lyrical reflection. Looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person


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