Book Review: Viet Thanh Nguyen ~ The Sympathizer (2015)

This superb book won the USA’s Pulitzer Prize. Nguyen is brilliant and the real thing: a great author. Opening sentences are important,

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.1

The unnamed hero/anti-hero is a member of Viet Nam’s Special Branch and a communist infiltrator. He’s taught torture by ‘Claude’ who’s an American CIA officer,

Did the Special Branch interrogations take so long because the policemen were being thorough, unimaginative, or sadistic? All of the above, said Claude. And yet the lack of imagination and the sadism contradict the thoroughness….Brute force will get you bad answers, lies, misdirection, or, worse yet, will get you the answer the prisoner thinks you want to hear. He will say anything to stop the pain.2

Immigrants become American by osmosis.,

An audience member might love or hate this Movie, or dismiss it as only a story, but those emotions were irrelevant. What mattered was that the audience member, having paid for the ticket, was willing to let American ideas and values seep into the vulnerable tissue of his brain and the absorbent soil of his heart.3

His insights are chilling. The entire book is worth reading for the section on the rout in Saigon that led to desperate scenes of terror for those left behind. (With history repeating itself in Kabul, orchestrated by the Americans and British.)

Strongly recommended.

1 p9
2 pp. 193-194
3 p198

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