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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2016.

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.

The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause.

A gripping spy story, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

©2016 Viet Thanh Nguyen (P)2016 Audible, Ltd

Critic Reviews

"A fierce novel written in a refreshingly high style and charged with intelligent rage." ( Financial Times)
"[A] dark and exciting debut novel.... Black humour seeps through these pages." ( Wall Street Journal)

What listeners say about The Sympathizer

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  • Anonymous User
  • 31-01-21

Illuminating, intriguing and gut wrenching

The author's use of imagery is sardonic and paints a beautifully lurid picture of the hypocrisy of self-entitled idealogues intent on exercising what tgwy believe to be in the best interests of tge people.
Nguyen brings to life the complexities of Vietnamese culture in the 20th century, allowing western readers to glimpse into a non-Hollywoodised era and people. Being one of tge few books written from the perspective of the Vietnamese by a person of Vietnamese descent, it is essential reading for anyone interesred in studying the contentious wars that plagued Vietnamese people for decades.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 18-10-19

Best Narrator, best story.

An amazing book narrated by one of the best narrators. His voice colours in the moods and makes it an authentic story telling time.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-05-18

Mixed views

A fascinating story about post war Vietnam refugees, with a lot of philosophical musings on the nature of race, political ideologies, & the refugee experience. A fairly dull delivery though unfortunately which spoilt it a bit for me

7 people found this helpful

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  • Simon
  • 06-11-16

The Unknown Underlined by the Unspoken

I know I know, ideas above my station! From Child, Rankin and Cornwell to Viet Thanh Nguyen's debut novel! The thing is when I saw the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner unrated at the time, possibly unread and seemingly unloved it just seemed too much of a curio to turn my head from. I'm not even going to begin to pretend that I know what makes a good prize winning novel, that's for much wiser minds than mine to weigh up and decide upon.

But did the book entertain me? Hell yes! Some of the passages have genuine humour and much of the book is blackly satirical and just as an example includes the lead character's discovery of the sexuality of raw squid! I'll say no more on that but a myriad topics get covered and while these characters existed half a world apart from me it seems, shock horror, that there are more similarities between the peoples of the world than disparities.

Did the book make me think? Yes again. This does descend to some pretty dark stuff including incidents of violence, conscience, political expedience and the mental cruelty of torture. Our written narrator is not only of mixed parentage, something looked down upon in the Vietnamese culture but also a Viet Cong double agent! That's enough to stretch anyone's mind and the author takes no prisoners while discussing both Western and Oriental culture.

Did the book excite me? Yes, there are some tense scenes including the early escape from Vietnam which was particularly well done albeit tragic in nature.

So was it great? I suspect as books go it genuinely is. So much so that I will return to it as I have no doubt that multiple re-readings would unearth more gems from this multi-layered tome. As an audiobook it's not perfect though and it does take considerable concentration. At least by my standards! Francois Chau's mildly accented English gives the feel of authenticity but otherwise paints the text in fairly arid tones. I am sure I lost nuance in some of the more philosophical and humorous passages.

So, a very accomplished book and one that I am very glad that I have completed. So much so that I will indeed give it another try some time to see what I missed first time!

25 people found this helpful

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  • J. Deane
  • 01-03-21

A very long confession

I did come close to giving up, but persisted to the end, despite the rather grating narration.

The fall of Saigon, and the troubles of a refugee diaspora that cannot return home are well told. How to go back to a country that no longer exists, and how to cope with being dual heritage, but accepted by neither, are interesting and rambling musings.

The most interesting section was on the film set, about how representation supersedes reality. We sometimes hear of how history is written by the victors, but the history of the Vietnam-American war is very much the opposite, with the defeated side writing the history. As such we see the Americans depicted as noble motivated victims, perhaps let down by a few bad apples. Such is the history of Imperialism, as told by Europeans and Americans.

The Sympathiser sometimes casts light on this biased version of history, but at times falls into the same trap. The Vietnamese characters as much as the American ones are without much nuance, and there is little character development or learning. The female characters are peripheral, but only Lana seems comfortably assimilated to America.

In particular the central trio of blood brothers (including the narrator) do not develop much, and despite ample opportunity it is not at all clear why the narrator is a Communist agent. He believes in nothing, not even himself, so his motivations are never clear, neither of the other two are much better explained, and all seem set in aspic, ending as they began.

The Vietnamese refer to the "American War" and despite American characters being only in supporting roles, that is how the story unwinds. There is so much more to Vietnam than its troubled relationship with the USA.

3 people found this helpful

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  • @eleniaudibles
  • 27-11-18

An Emotional Sensation

I had never heard of this writer before but was looking for literature to read that has been translated into English. I'm so glad I found this novel, it's truly a masterpiece and so illuminating! Without giving much away, I laughed, I cried and I felt such deep kingship with the Vietnamese people affected by the Vietnam War. I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to try something new and read literature that hasn't got a fully Westernised backdrop.

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  • Gill
  • 08-12-18

Long, and heavy

Some might like this but very heavy and too drawn out for me. I liked the voice and performance of reader was good but the story demanded to much thought to really appreciate

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-03-21

Why?

Why did I waste my time persevering with this... if you aren’t enjoying it by half way just give up

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  • hfffoman
  • 24-10-20

Wonderful - despite the awful narration

Despite the horrible narration which sounds like the narrator wants to kill someone, this is a wonderful book,

Certainly the subject matter will put some people off. It is set in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and contains a great deal of gruesome treatment of men and women. To avoid spoilers I won't say any more about the story, except that it is ultimately about politics, humanity, culture, and the struggle for wholeness of the human spirit.

Professional reviewers and prize committees have praised the book with much eloquence and erudition. I will commend it simply for two reasons. It exudes intelligence and perception; and the quality of the writing is superb. I can think of very few writers whose prose comes near to the grace, wit and sharp wisdom of Mr Nguyen. I found almost every line a pleasure.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-05-21

Awfully believable

The heart of Vietnam divided and tormented laid bare and crying for our understanding.

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  • Alan
  • 19-04-21

Not sure

Smarter people than I rate this book, so it’s probably me but I just didn’t get on with this. The writer seems unjustifiably proud of knowing the word “crapulent”. To me, this is a short story collection, blu tacked together into a larger work that just never quite feels right. Won the Pulitzer though, so may have just gone over my head.

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  • G
  • 09-04-21

a mix of greatness and mediocrity

Excellent first and third acts full of beautiful prose and real originality. The 50% of the book which made up the middle however was dull, full of spy genre tropes, and dragged horribly, though still well written line to line. overall a good read but sad to say it wasted the potential to be a great one.

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  • Christopher
  • 20-11-16

Do yourself a favour!

So great! An amazing listen 👂 there are times I had to pull my car over while listen as I was so engaged in the book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tom
  • 21-10-19

Complex, philosophical, edgy

Overall, very enjoyable. At its peaks, some of the best fiction I’ve read. The overuse of often questionable similes got irritating, like a thick balsamic glaze smeared beneath each course of literary delights, coating my mind with its sticky lingering flavour long after I’ve finished chewing through their meaning. But there’s so much to love about this book, not least of which is a new appreciation of what the Vietnamese went through.

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  • S c.
  • 14-09-19

Keeps me thinking

I can't write a beautiful enough narrative to describe the beauty that this book holds. It's words float and there meanings will stay on your mind.

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  • Andrew Foster
  • 29-07-17

It's got it all

Incredible writing, great historical insight into the war and Vietnam, and lucid critiques of American culture and thinking. This would be a great book if it covered any one aspect but this book shines in them all. I've already recommended this to many of my friends and heartily recommend it to you, too.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-12-16

Brilliant novel on so many levels

This is an entertaining, enthralling novel with fascinating insights into the Vietnamese experience. Everything rings true. I charged through this wonderful book. Loved it.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-05-21

Blown. Away.

This read is not easy. It requires one to settle in, pay attention, and bear witness to many things.
It quietly immerses you... and then it rocks the very earth beneath you. A lot.

This absolute tour de force of intellect is exquisitely crafted in every way, and Nguyen's prose can reach breathtaking.

I don't suggest this lightly, but it could arguably be THE novel of our times. Regardless, it stands tall amongst the greatest works in literature.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 13-10-20

Fun, yet disassociated read

I like what the author did with this book, materialising personal experience and second hand stories told to him to create this fictional Vietnam. I really wish that it was real, it would have carried more weight to it for me. I had to double check that it was a fiction book a few times. An entertaining read, with many philosophical questions and lessons for the reader. Some tales were funny other sad, etc. At times I could not follow where they were, if in Vietnam, US or Laos... but I kept reading... It depicts some of humanities tougher choices...