Think back to a time when you first read that book; the book you wished would never end. How did it feel? Turning the last page and saying goodbye to a fictional character and his/her world. Grieving for a book is a real emotion. Sometimes the grief is for the character, other times it’s the bitter-sweet ending; rarely it is about the construct of the book and the author’s writing style, and reading The Symapthizer was just that.
The Sympathizer was a literary revelation for me. At times hilarious, other times disturbing and sometimes both at once. The debut novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a story about a double-agent and his dual life as a captain in the South Vietnamese army and a spy for the Communist cause. If the ‘spy thriller’ genre doesn’t entice you enough to pick this 370-page Pulitzer Prize winner, then do it to become a more aware world citizen in the current times.
Nguyen has artfully raised some key issues faced by migrants in America. These issues are more profound in the second half of the book and will resonate with all the immigrant communities. Set against the backdrop of 1975, the message is relevant even today. Feelings of love, loss, loyalty, patriotism and a desire to be accepted is a theme throughout the book. The story takes the reader on a journey, giving a glimpse of the protagonist’s childhood and how the burden of a ‘bastard’ child possibly translated into an adult life of deceit and duplicity. It shows the murky, dark side of the entertainment industry and how media can be manipulated to highlight a point of view.
“Movies were America’s way of softening up the rest of the world, Hollywood relentlessly assaulting the mental defenses of audiences with the hit, the smash, the spectacle, the blockbuster, and, yes, even the box office bomb. It mattered not what story these audiences watched. The point was that it was the American story they watched and loved, up until the day that they themselves might be bombed by the planes they had seen in American movies.”– The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
I don’t remember studying the Vietnam War in school. Indian history is so rich and extensive on its own, the curriculum allows little scope to fit in different aspects of the world history. However, from a young age I have held a fascination for historical fiction, mostly focussed on the events of the First and Second World War. Luckily, I stumbled on The Sympathizer while browsing books on Amazon. It is not a didactic novel. It doesn’t aim to give an in-depth analysis of the war. However, it draws up on human emotions and behaviour, where each character has an individual presence. The General and the Auteur still linger in my mind, long after I’ve finished the book.
“Isn’t that what education is all about? Getting the student to sincerely say what the teacher wants to hear? Keep that in mind.”– The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Sympathizer brought to me the lost joy of reading. Instead of skimming past sentences and words, I took my time to read, appreciate and absorb the emotions and the effort the author has put in to present this literary work, which could well be labeled as a classic.
I do recommend beginning this journey when you have spare time on your hands. The book demands (and deserves) your time and attention! It is NOT a light read. Each chapter consists of roughly 20 pages and to avoid disrupting the flow of thoughts and the rhythm, take each chapter as a mini story with no break. I finished this book in 7 days and I wish I had taken more time to enjoy it.