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.

It’s World Refugee Day

I can’t imagine being displaced from the safety and security of my home. I can’t even fathom what it’s like  to survive without food, friends, family and shelter. I can’t visualise being surrounded by so much hate, gunfire, shelling and death. I can’t contemplate a fear so chilling that I’m forced to take an incredible risk to get out of a dangerous situation.

Yet one person on the planet every two seconds flees on foot, by vehicle or boat to escape and seek sanctuary elsewhere. I wonder why anyone would risk a buffeting sea until I actually consider the environment of where they’ve come from.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. There were 51.2 million refugees reported in 2013 which exceeded the numbers after WW2. This has grown to an extraordinary and record number of 68 million refugees in 2017. While  conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Congo areas continue,  the numbers of displaced people will grow.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) recent report, one in every 110 people on our planet is a refugee, internally displaced or is seeking asylum. It’s a staggering figure but what is even more tragic is that 25 million are under the age of 18.

Most of us in the Western world are very fortunate and we all have a responsibility to do something whether it’s to support organisations who help refugees such as the UNHCR (http://www.unhcr.org/uk/), agitate our own government and elected officials or simply take the time to reflect and change our attitude and mindset about our fellow human beings.

Many of us would no doubt have relatives or ancestors who were refugees. Indeed, within my own family there are refugees from WW2 and the Greek Civil War.

Refugees don’t choose to run because they want to, they’re put into a position where they simply have to.

Still Waiting For An Answer …

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“The Age” 25 September 2016

It’s been seven days since I wrote my open letter to  Malcolm Turnbull and Kelly O’Dwyer without the courtesy of a response or acknowledgment. Did I expect anything? Quite frankly, no.

What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response by so many of you to my letter which was shared with hundreds of people. I didn’t expect an extract to be published in ‘The Age’ newspaper either.

Thanks everyone for your support – it means a lot.

Meanwhile the young man I met last week still languishes with no end to his detention in sight, along with all the others on Manus Island.

So what’s next?

I  will follow-up with Kelly and Malcolm today seeking an answer to my question, “What are you going to do about releasing all 850 odd asylum seekers on Manus Island and when?”

In the meantime, why don’t you write a letter to your Member of Parliament? Just ask the same question too.