I wrote in a previous post that the list of pulitzer prize winners for fiction was a good place to mine for good books. The 2016 prize winner was fiction was The Sympathizer by Vietnam-born, US-based author Viet Thanh Nguyen. I was attracted to this for a number of reasons: it was a pulitzer prize winner; I’ve an interest in the Vietnam War (or ‘American War’ if you’re Vietnamese); and the premise sounded interesting.
Our narrator and protagonist is a communist agent/spy and captain in the Vietnamese Army, who escapes to the United States on the fall of Saigon. He’s also half-French, half-Vietnamese. So if you’re beginning to see a theme here you’re right. The story is the setting for the narrator’s exploration of his dualism, e.g. despite himself he loves the freedoms of the US but the US doesn’t reciprocate and he feels isolated and emasculated. He continues with his communist activities which leads him to the Philippines and his past. I dare say any more.
I once worked in a job which I continue to describe as ‘worthy but dull’. Regrettably, that’s my opinion of this book. It’s an intriguing premise, very well written (as one would expect with a pulitzer prize winner), and the book has some powerful moments. But it just never grabbed me. I never felt any meaningful bond with the narrator and it took too long to get to where it needed to.
While it’s garnered praise from many quarters, I have to say that there are many other books I’d recommend over this one (if a good read is what you’re after rather than a work of fiction based around the Vietnam War).