THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen



a book of books. it ends, after several transmutations (and before a coda of only a slightly lighter shade) with some dark dark evil. i liked it best when this historical novel with its characters unblessed with political correctness spotlit the hidden racism of the present. and the memorable, thinly veiled critique of APOCALYPSE NOW (the vietnam war movie that via good old american megalomania redacted from itself any speaking roles for vietnamese*). great terrifying opener. great terrifying closer. in between it moved swiftly and darkly through worlds.



an excerpt, on some american dark hearts:

By the movie’s last shot, of innocent Danny Boy sitting in the open doorway of a Huey helicopter ascending slowly into the clear blue heavens, weeping as he gazed over his war-ravaged homeland, destined for a country where women’s breasts produced not just milk but milkshakes — or so the GIs told him — I had to admit to the Auteur’s talent, the way one might admire the technical genius of a master gunsmith. He had hammered into existence a thing of beauty and horror, exhilarating for some and deadly for others, a creation whose purpose was destruction. As the credits began rolling, I felt touched by shame for having contributed to this dark work, but also pride in the contributions of my extras. Faced with ungraceful roles, they had comported themselves with as much grace as possible. There were the four veterans who played VC RAPIST #1, VC RAPIST #2, VC RAPIST #3, and VC RAPIST #4, as well as the others who had made their screen debuts as DESPERATE VILLAGER, DEAD GIRL, LAME BOY, CORRUPT OFFICER, PRETTY NURSE, BLIND BEGGAR, SAD REFUGEE, ANGRY CLERK, WEEPING WIDOW, IDEALISTIC STUDENT, GENTLE WHORE, and CRAZY GUY IN WHOREHOUSE.




PS in this interview, nguyen says,

One of the things that characterizes both Vietnamese and Asian American literature is that it’s often times not very angry. There’s not a lot of rage, at least not in the past few decades. And if there is anger or rage, it has to be directed at the ignorant: the Asian country of origin or Asian families or Asian patriarchs. While all that is important, I sensed a reluctance to be angry at American culture or at the United States for what it has done. That’s why, in the book, I adopt a much angrier tone towards American culture and the US.

this reminded me of an overlooked asian american novel that is angry, though it uses humor in a way not unlike paul beatty: yongsoo park’s BOY GENIUS.


(a side thought a few days after finishing the book… the happa’s multiracialness reads as contextually chameleon’ed/camouflaged. in The Sympathizer’s particular case, he reads most of the time, despite the book’s explicit attempts to foreground his “bastard” identity, as asian. this has less to do i think with any automatic othering by white characters (or by readers) but race operating (differently from gender) in prose. in this mediated form, racial identity performance, absent immediate markers, cannot effortlessly sustain its foregroundedness — and this is especially true of multiracial’s less rigid category.)

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