The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen


October 25, 2016

I thought I knew the basics of the Vietnam War (or The American War as it’s known in Vietnam) but this book broke open what I thought I knew and left something entirely different in its place.  A longer read but worth the time.  You never learn the name of the main character and while I can’t say that he was lovable, per se, he was relatable and I was fully invested in his confession by the end.  It was well-written (obvs, this book won Nguyen the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) and there are still several things I’m ruminating on.


“I was doing my best imitation of a Third World child on one of those milk cartons passed around elementary schools for American children to deposit their pennies and dimes in order to help poor Alejandro, Abdullah, or Ah Sing have a hot lunch and an immunization.  And I was thankful, truly!  But I was also one of those unfortunate cases who could not help but wonder whether my need for American charity was due to my having first been the recipient of American aid.”

“Easier to get a gun here than to vote or drive.  You don’t even need to know any English.”

“…this was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors.”

“Movies were America’s way of softening up the rest of the world… An audience member might love or hate this movie, or dismiss it as only a story, but those emotions were irrelevant.  What mattered was that the audience member, having paid for the ticket, was willing to let American ideas and values seep into the vulnerable tissue of his brain and the absorbent soil of his heart.”

“We instinctively knew that in order for Americans to find refugees like us acceptable, they first had to find our food digestible (not to mention affordable and pronounceable.”

“I was in close quarters with some representative specimens of the most dangerous creature in the history of the world, the white man in a suit… As a nonwhite person, the General, like myself, knew he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite.  Even with liberal white people, one could go only so far, and with the average white people one could barely go anywhere at all.”

“What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power?… Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others?”

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