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Book Review

'The Sympathizer' Is A Masterful Debut

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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is set in motion by the fall of Saigon in 1975.

April marks a mass exodus of Vietnamese loyalists, primarily to the U.S. Our narrator works for a powerful general in the South Vietnamese Army as a trusted captain. He drives for the general, he negotiates for the general with the honest, the corrupt, the dissidents and the deserters. The trusted captain is ever present, but he never draws attention to himself. The trusted captain is also a double agent.

We meet the general and our narrator as they are preparing to depart Saigon, traverse the refugee camp in Guam, and finally settle in southern California. What follows is an intriguing story of loyalty, national pride, and living with a dangerous secret. The limits of one's political beliefs are tested many times over when challenged by love and survival.

Nguyen broadens the focus by introducing Hollywood and the movie industry into the mix, as when an accomplished director recruits the general to be an advisor for a film he is making in the Philippines about the Vietnam War. The contrasts and contradictions of how our world is reflected on screen are nothing less than bizarre.

Few debut novels show this level of pure talent. Read this masterpiece and you'll be waiting with anticipation for what is to come from this rising star.