The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This debut novel was published in 2015 and is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, Fiction. It’s a gripping spy novel with the most arresting narrator’s voice, a man of divided loyalties and intense friendship. Disturbing and fascinating, it could possibly redefine the way we look at the Vietnam War. Certainly it redefines the way we understand winning and losing.
The first sentence explains the main character – I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. He is half-French and half-Vietnamese, a communist sleeper agent living in America after the end of the war. He is a young man drawn into extreme politics. And it is his nameless voice that guides us through the entire story. He is simply referred to as “the captain”.
The book opens up in April of 1975 when Saigon is in chaos. He is the top aide to the General of the South Vietnamese Army and is in charge of compiling the list of those who will be on the last flights out of their war-ravaged country. (Of course, he puts himself and his 2 best friends on the list.) We relive those last 2 days inside Vietnam, remembering the famous photos of the many people on top of the U.S. Embassy, begging for a seat. Once in America, he is called on again and again to prove his loyalty to South Vietnam, all the time writing coded letters home to the other side.
The author was born in Vietnam and raised in America. He teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California. In the Cool Mona rating system, I easily award The Sympathizer 5 margaritas.