Vietnam: Duality, War, identity, and Confession

I expected to find a lot of books set in Vietnam and written by Vietnamese authors, but I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t the case. I would have been interested in reading about normal life in Vietnam. What people do, fear, think, and feel. I will keep an eye on a book like that for the future. The one subject I tried to avoid, the Vietnam war, was exactly what I ended up reading about in The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

A South Vietnamese army general, together with a Captain, are writing a list of the people who will get a seat on the last flight out of the country. The group of men move to Los Angeles and start their lives over, but without the knowledge that the Captain is a spy for the Viet Cong. He was born to a French father and Vietnamese mother, studied in the USA, and fought for communism in Vietnam. Now he’s forced to make a confession.

This book has received a lot of praise, and also the Pulitzer prize. It is an interesting story, but I did not spark any strong feelings inside of me. Could be it’s because I have never really been that interested in the Vietnam war. I am not American, so it has not had such a big impact on my life. The subject of the war itself is naturally a big part of the book, but so is being an immigrant in the US.

I think the reason I had some problems connecting with the book is that the characters were usually not given names but were called The Captain and The Auteur. this has never worked for me. It alienates me from them and makes me feel like an outsider. I like the duality of the book, and the way it is built in as one of the main characters (no duality is not one of the names for a character). Duality, living life as a Vietnamese immigrant in another country, coming from a country that is split into two, and originally being partly Vietnamese and partly French give most definitely a certain character to a person.

I am not the biggest fan of the writing style, which is a bit too jumpy, and it takes awhile to understand the change of time in the story. The lack of quotation marks didn’t make reading it any easier. The prose itself is quite lyrical and unique, and I can understand that people can be mesmerized reading it.

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