The Sympathizer: A Novel
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a "man of two minds," a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.
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Fantastic Read, but Only a Resource for Educators
As a social studies educator, this novel had it all. Action, love, betrayal and secrecy all abound within a novel that uses historical facts and the zeitgeist of the time to shove the reader headfirst into a world of double-crossing and espionage. The themes that run through the book force a Western reader to consider the struggle between capitalism and communism for a country and people that did not ask for U.S. influence. The overall read is a great one, but only for adults. There are some overt sexual scenes that would my my grandmother blush and the language can be over the top profane at points, so I cannot recommend it in good faith for any school under the university level. However, pieces of the the Asian-American identity could be copied out of the book and used to supplement material in a lesson for social studies teachers. These lessons should circle around the Asian-American experience, as well as Cold War tensions.
I would encourage anyone interested in Asian culture and U.S. Cold War history to read this book for their own enjoyment. I would also reinforce that there are sections within the book that can be utilized, even if not the entire book itself. Use it to support classroom teachings across grade levels as the description of setting and internal conflict bring the struggle of heritage in a Cold War world to life.
The Sympathizer: A Novel Review by Oliver Jia
Oliver Jia, NCTA Student Worker
The Sympathizer is the debut novel of Viet Thanh Nguyen which proceeded to win the Pulitzer Prize and swaths of international acclaim. Encompassing too many genres to really fit into one category, it is truly one of the most compelling works of fiction released in the last decade. The novel centers around themes such as Asian-American identity, the effect of the Vietnam War on both sides of the globe, immigration, and plenty of other deep topics that I’m sure will continue to spark discussion for years to come. Much has been said about its unique approach to prose. While undoubtedly well-written, I agree with certain criticisms that Nguyen perhaps overwrites at times which can occasionally take away from his greater message. Nonetheless, it is a work that should be read carefully and those well-versed in East Asian affairs will in particular find his satire humorous.
Since The Sympathizer is a unrelenting with its sexual content, violence, and profanity, it pushes the limits for what’s allowed even within a senior high school classroom. As a result, I think that it would only be appropriate for the university level. I can see it having some use in courses related to history, politics, satire, literature, and a variety of other fields. While very enjoyable on its own, I wouldn’t make it my first choice for educational purposes.
A true page turner
This novel is a page turner! It's easy to understand why this book won a Pulitzer Prize and many awards. The author is a master at language and creates an intriguing plot which makes this story so amazing. It was difficult to put the book down even if long. The plot began when the narrator is a young man in Saigon with frequent flashbacks to his childhood. His parents are a Catholic priest and a peasant Vietnamese mother, causing people to call him a bastard and making him feel very isolated. The plot takes the characters from the blood bond of 3 friends, to the American occupation in effort to back South Vietnamese government, to the narrator's escape during the fall of Saigon, to his resettlement in America, to his return mission to Vietnam, his capture and reeducation. Finally, his escape back to America.
Throughout the novel, the narrator suggests he has always been afflicted with the ability to see both sides of all issues. There are many sides to all things in this novel: two parts to Vietnam, Democracy and Communism as well as the duality of the narrator's background. This back and forth moves the plot and characters along throughout the entire story.
I think everyone should read this novel and judge for themselves. Only then can one gain insight into the history and culture of the country of Vietnam. This novel can offer a riveting tale, a peek into the history of modern Vietnam as well as an understanding of the Vietnamese culture.