I had to start, not finish, and resume where I left off as I read Viet Thanh Nyugen’s The Sympathizer because it kept coming up when I had a couple of other books available, so I feel a bit disjointed in my review, but for a novel that is so intentionally literary it also felt very real in some frightening ways. Thoughts:
- He’s clearly novelizing Fanon’s experience, with the added burden of having his confessioner serve as a spy for the Viet Cong. He’s much less interested in the American experience, and far more interested in the Vietnamese one. This is an unqualified plus.
- As I read I kept chuckling gently to myself, a response I did not expect. Our narrator (who is unnamed) is very funny, and the responses of his friends, colleagues, and those he is spying upon are often witty as well.
- I know it’s set in 1975, with the South Vietnamese government about to fall, but it was enmeshed in all the history of that war, from Dien Bien Phu on. The Captain’s interactions with the southern general for whom he is an adjutant are fascinating, and the ways that he tells us of his own patriotism for his oppressed countrymen in doing this intensely dangerous duty made me feel like I was there.
- The narrator is half-French and half-Vietnamese, as his father was a French priest. This fact played into his outcast status, and also gave Nguyen a way to include the French and their own part in this war.
- So much more, but the scenes in which he is tortured because he wasn’t ideologically sound enough were gruesome. This novel also included two different, graphically described rapes.
- The complexity of this war again makes me question why the hell we ever went in. Anti-communism is a helluva drug.