Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (New York: Grove Press, 2015), 382pp.
Nguyen's powerful debut novel explores the Vietnam War and its legacy from the perspective of a Communist double-agent — a half-French, half-Vietnamese "man of two minds," who escapes to America after the Fall of Saigon. The nameless protagonist's narrative — offered in a form of a confession written from an isolation cell — begins with a vivid and harrowing account of the final days of the war, when Communists closed in on Saigon, and the city erupted in terror and chaos. It then follows the protagonist as he makes his way to Los Angeles, builds a new life with other Vietnamese refugees, and continues to report back to his Communist superiors in Vietnam. Part immigrant tale, part espionage novel, and part political satire, The Sympathizer offers readers a darkly comic but still searing perspective on American's involvement in Vietnam. Aside from its witty prose, its great strength lies in its refusal to exonerate anyone. Instead of reducing the war to simple dichotomies of right and wrong, the novel explores questions of complicity, identity, racism, torture, and violence in their full complexity. The Sympathizer was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.