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Book Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Updated on March 4, 2020
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LJ Milan is a fan of movies since he was a kid. He loves them all, no matter the genre. Sometimes he just won't shut up about them.



The story begins with fall of Saigon, and American retreat from Vietnam. They took some of the people from South Vietnam's army. One of those is our main character and North Vietnam mole and spy, who was ordered to go with them to America and spy on refugees.

My Review

Before we begin I have to share one small piece of information, this book was published in 2015 on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

This book blew my mind. From the beginning, it's obvious that it was written by the master of his craft. The thing I found interesting is that many of the opinions in this book coincide with mine. So, much so, that I had a little attack of paranoia. I thought that they read my mind by some H.A.R.P. look-alike thingy.

This novel is fantastic and easy to read. Words just flow on the pages. The author realistically portrays all the ups and downs of American culture. He paints the picture of all that he sees, and many others, as bad in it. Most of all the American discrimination of other cultures, that in this book goes so far that it borders with racism.

This novel is a tragic story of a man lost in an alien culture. But, the novel is full of comedic moments. The writer guides us masterfully through the story, in one sentence he will make you cry, and in the next, he will make you cry from laughter.

This novel realistically portrays the conflict between East and West and everything that conflict entails. That eternal struggle of worlds, and the tragic destiny of people (immigrants) pinned between those worlds.

The story of the main character is hard and tragic, but phenomenally and masterfully written. This book should be read by all those who want to immigrate, and not just to America. Which in this day and age means it should be required reading in schools.

There are many quotes I liked in this book, but I will present to you this one which is profound and exactly like mine.

His arrogance marked something new in the world, for this was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors, courtesy of the most efficient propaganda machine ever created (with all due respect to Joseph Goebbels and the Nazis, who never achieved global domination). Hollywood’s high priests understood innately the observation of Milton’s Satan, that it was better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, better to be a villain, loser, or antihero than virtuous extra, so long as one commanded the bright lights of center stage. In this forthcoming Hollywood trompe l’oeil, all the Vietnamese of any side would come out poorly, herded into the roles of the poor, the innocent, the evil, or the corrupt. Our fate was not to be merely mute; we were to be struck dumb.

I think that truer words have never been spoken about Hollywood, and it isn't negated by the fact I love Hollywood movies. And best of all, they are written so simply that everyone can understand them.

But it would be a mistake to think that all author does is critic just American society and culture, he critics all of them. Especially communism. We who have lived behind the Iron Curtain can recognizance all the pitfalls of communism and it's propaganda. And we can see all of the problems communism created, firstly to us, how they brainwashed us with it. It's been thirty years from the fall of it, and people still carry that propaganda in their heads and hearts. It's a vicious circle that can only be broken by generations that follow us. And that's the biggest tragedy of all, change doesn't come swiftly, it's slow and painful.

And finally, this novel tells, subtly, that we are more alike then we think, and that's the important message.

So, if you haven't read this book I recommend it. It is an important piece of literature, especially in this climate.

5 stars for The Symphatizer

© 2020 LJ Milan


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