Header Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Written By: Isa Gonzalez Montilla
Vietnamese Refugee and award-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, presented to us, “the man of two faces and two minds” in his debut novel, The Sympathizer. This Pulitzer-award-winning fiction tells the story of a communist North Vietnamese spy working as a top and personal aid to a South Vietnamese general. After the fall of Saigon, this nameless double agent goes off to live in Southern California in a South Vietnamese community where he finds himself being tortured by his best friend, Bon, and former general in a Communist re-education camp.
The story plot introduces a new perspective that is not ordinarily seen through pieces of literature that come out of the Vietnam War. This no-named spy, who is also the protagonist-narrator of the story, is a mole who has been directed to keep a close eye on the chief of South Vietnam’s National Police, as well as the Special Branch, also known as the secret police.
Since millions around the world enjoyed The Sympathizer, Nguyen wanted to continue telling his story through a Vietnamese perspective in a sequel titled The Committed. This story was made to combat other misconceptions and misunderstandings people have about those who are refugees themselves.
The Committed continues this man’s story and adventures but in another setting: Paris, France. As Alexandra Alter said in a New York Times article, the second part of this novel focuses on topics like “individual and collective identity and memory, how wars are memorialized, whose war stories get told, and what happens when abstract political ideologies are clumsily deployed in the real world”. This book was written so that people could realize those who leave their countries are actually heroic rather than “boat-people” as Nguyen would say.
Viet Thanh Nguyen is from Vietnam but fled the country when he was four years old. He is the son of a young teenage North Vietnamese mother and a Catholic father who was also a colonialist at the time. While his father was often out of the picture, he spent most of his time with his mother. This experience, one he remembers in a traumatic way, has molded his creative tendencies as an author. The Sympathizer and The Committed have both been inspired by his childhood. Nguyen has said that growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in The United States was like constantly growing up as a spy. When he was at home, he felt like an American spy in a Vietnamese household, and when he was out of the house, he felt like a Vietnamese spy in an American environment. This book is a great example of how a multicultural household can help an individual form a unique perspective on the world. To be able to look through another person’s perspective on the world is very important to our development as a global community because embracing diversity will help us become more united and peaceful as a planet.
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