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Book Salon
The Sympathizer

  • This month we're reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Our faculty host is Michaela Bronstein.

    Listen to an interview with our Book Salon host.

    "The Sympathizer is the story of a North Vietnamese spy who infiltrates the US in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It ranges from the violence of war and the dilemmas created by a spy's conflicting loyalties to the everyday struggles of life as an immigrant and a minority in the US. The story is told through the vivid, beguiling voice of a narrator who is, in the end, a revolutionary in search of a revolution."

    Michaela Bronstein, assistant professor of English

How to Participate

>> Read the audio transcript with this quarter's host, Professor Michaela Bronstein

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About this quarter's book selection

The Sympathizer begins in April 1975 as Saigon is about to fall to communist invasion. Soon enough it does, and the war is over. Or is it?

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows a nameless spy who has infiltrated the South Vietnamese army and flees with its remnants to America. His mission: report on their efforts to continue their lost war. As the aide to a general who refuses to admit defeat, he observes the struggles of the Vietnamese refugees to survive in a melancholic Los Angeles. Among them, the general believes, are communist agents. So the spy’s double life continues, hunting communists while helping the general organize a covert army. Their mission: to invade Vietnam and take it back.

Neither America nor a double life is new to our narrator. He is Eurasian, his father a French priest, his mother Vietnamese. He has been a double agent since his teenage years, and in his college years, he studied in California, the better to learn American culture. His war is a psychological one, but as he slowly realizes, much of that war is fought within himself, a man in between races and countries. As he says from the beginning: "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds."