Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

23168277

Rating: 
Date Read: May 01 to 06, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s choice
Recommended to:

This book’s a challenge to rate. Still don’t know where I stand or how to feel about it because there’s so much about it that’s uncomfortable, as it should be since we are unpacking a distorted history here. And yet it’s surprisingly not a difficult read. Uncomfortable at times, but not difficult.

We don’t succeed or fail because of fortune or luck. We succeed because we understand the way the world works and what we have to do. We fail because others understand this better than we do.

[…]

So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead.

The language is pleasantly smooth for such uncomfortable subject matter, and I can see why it won the Pulitzer, but despite the ease of the writing, the story doesn’t feel real. It feels like what it is–a fictional account, that benefits from perspective and hindsight and distance, about a personal narrative that’s supposed to emulate real events. But it never feels real. Not once during the read did I forget that I was reading a story. But maybe that’s the point? This is literary fiction after all.

Although I read it for a book club, the only person I want to discuss it with, so he could help me unpack it, is the author himself because he’s got some ‘splaining to do. Just kidding… sort of. But seriously.

* * * some spoilers below * * *

There are a couple of scenes in particular that I’d some explaining, but I no longer have the book with me and didn’t take notes (I know, I know–the nerve!). But let’s start with the most obvious. Let’s start with the scene with the squid on the beach. How is it relevant to the story? What does it even mean? I’m trying to see the bigger picture here, but can’t see how this fits into the narrative or even how it improves the story.

Please explain, Professor, for I am lost and mildly annoyed that you threw a scene like that into your book.

All kidding aside. Professor Viet seems like one of those intensely smart people who also happen to be easy to talk to. And I would love to hear about the origin of this story–how it came about; how he crafted it; how much of it was taken from real events; how much of it was taken from his own life; whose story is he telling here and why; to what purpose and what end.

You know, just simple questions…

* * * * *

A couple interviews with the Professor himself that I found after reading this book:

NPR

NYT

PBS (video)

I don’t understand the book any better now than I did when I first finished it, but these interviews provide a glimpse into his thought and writing process and his activism. I now understand where he’s coming from better than I did when I first finished the book.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s