Off The Shelf: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Hello, thank you for checking out this book review column! My name is Mudmee, and I love reading. I am really excited to share some book reviews with you over the next few weeks. I hope you find them helpful and maybe even decide to pick up one of these titles! This week, I am reviewing the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, “The Sympathizer” is a historical fiction espionage novel about an unnamed sleeper agent for the Viet Cong, a Vietnamese political organization. The agent goes undercover as a captain in the South Vietnamese army. When Saigon falls, this captain is sent to the United States as a refugee. There, he continues his mission, determined to fight for communism while looking for his place in a foreign country that has just lost a war against his home. He dutifully sends back information to the Viet Cong while making sure no one suspects his true role. The captain has always been a man of two faces and two stories — his mother is a poor Vietnamese woman, while his father is a French missionary; he grows up in Vietnam and yet is fluent in American culture; he finds his loyalties sometimes clashing with his ethics. This story is a fascinating documentation of how he navigates a life of duality.

Although it took me a little while to actually get into this book, I really enjoyed it once I did. Nguyen writes in a witty, brutally honest way that reflects on society in ways you may not necessarily have thought of before. For instance, the main character ruminates on the idea that Hollywood is America’s most effective, most powerful form of propaganda. He explains that by representing groups of people in a certain light, Hollywood is able to influence the way that group of people are seen and treated by the rest of the world. I found his phrasing of the influence that Hollywood has being “propaganda” super interesting. This is just one of many issues that the book discusses that pertain not only to American culture, but to humans and society in general. While the book has intense moments (it is a war novel after all), Nguyen finds ways to add humor to the story without taking away from the gravity of each situation. You’ll find yourself laughing on one page and then feeling extremely disturbed on the next.


An extremely well written book that is not your typical historical fiction novel. Definitely worth a read!   9/10