Via Amazon Description
Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2016
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties.
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.
The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
As a second-generation American even I can appreciate how immigrants can feel stateless, home nowhere. Personally, the concept of ethnic identity is something I rejected or ignored most of my life. It never served my need to fit in and worse I watched how my own mother had to combat narrow, patriarchal Egyptian attitudes.
As an adult, my acid feelings have gradually diluted. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for the sound of Arabic. But more likely it’s a deeper affinity for my culture rooted in shared experience. A bond that cannot be broken by simply being disappointed by how its members respond to that experience.
My recent trip to Vietnam with my in-laws has helped me infer the role of collective memory, community and the duality of tribalism that is red in tooth but also in the blood that binds otherwise strangers.
Refugees pay it forward because they remember. There’s a tacit recognition if not fear that we'd never make it alone. I read this book as I traveled with my family through Ho Chi Min City (still Saigon to some), Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay, Ninh Bình, Phú Quốc, and Mỹ Tho, the town on the Mekong Delta where my wife’s family hails from. I listened to my in-laws tell stories of timing the hand-off of their children from small boat up to big boat just as the waves would crest. Not everyone made it. The sea doesn’t offer closure when it asserts itself as you might imagine.
This book is a companion to the inhumanity that humanity stubbornly encompasses. It’s a page-turner. It’s beautifully written.
And it resists tidy lessons.
A sentiment best captured here:
“A revolution fought for independence and freedom could make those things worth less than nothing”