Book Review: the Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
TL;DR read the Sympathizer if:
- you're a fan of war novels,
- interested in Southeast Asian history, or
- are interested in a glimpse into Asian-American culture/the refugee experience.
The Sympathizer takes place around the Vietnam War and is told from the perspective of a "North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army, who stays embedded in a South Vietnamese community in exile in the United States."
The themes include: war, revolution, freedom, independence, duality, how we are viewed in society, American ideas such as "Disneyland ideology" and the pursuit of happiness. While I enjoyed this perspective on conflicts faced by Asian-Americans and the idea of being treated as either two halfs or two wholes, the style and bouncing back and forth did make the story harder to follow for me. Also the use of the word sympathize got annoying, but that is expected from the title.
What did keep me reading was that the book is crazy- from bestiality to violent events of war, the novel certainly fluctuated from insightful moments to extreme discomfort. There were definitely parts of the book where I had to take a break because of the intensity/violence.
The best part of the book is the end, and reading it did feel like being in a war, it was tough to endure and get through, but the last chapter made it worth reading. I definitely see this as must read for Asian-American majors, but also a good read for children of immigrants, and those open to understanding the refugee struggle. This was personally not one of my favorite reads, but I hope to read more Asian-American themed stories!