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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Published on Monday, March 13, 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

A Man of Two Minds

This is a well-written debut novel about the wind up and aftermath of the Vietnam War, the airlift evacuation of selected refugees after the fall of Saigon, and their resettlement in America.  The refugees include ruthless, if not somewhat deluded patriots, who are determined to settle scores and reclaim their homeland.  The narration mostly takes the form of a written confession by the main character, a Communist spy whose dual heritage and educational background render him facile at seeing merit, and thereby sympathizing with both sides of any issue, including the war in Vietnam and its aftermath.  He is not a man of great principle, but he has a moral conscience.  Whether this is a gift or a curse is part of the irony of the story and adds occasional humor to this often heartbreaking tale.   

While easy to read, this book is difficult to take, given the story’s grimness and violence.  However, it is suspenseful and impeccably crafted, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as a very long list of other well-deserved literary awards. 

This is a very discussible book, highly recommended for book groups.

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