Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer offers an interesting critique of the Vietnam War’s aftermath, holding both the American and the Vietnamese people responsible.
The narrator is a communist spy who has been imprisoned by the Viet Cong. He has been forced to confess to sins committed against the revolution. Through this confession, the narrator reveals that he is a man who embodies a certain duality. Being half-French and half-Vietnamese, he is considered an outcast. Despite looking Vietnamese, he is not considered one. Having studied in America, he is familiar with the ways of the Western world. He is a communist who understands individualism. He is someone who lives on the fringes of society not knowing where he belongs. The Sympathizer illustrates how war and conflict divides both people and countries. It reveals how people are capable of showing compassion and yet are also capable of acting with absolute savagery.
Nguyen wrote in the book, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” And as an author, he has successfully represented the misrepresented.
Here is a quote that captures the core of the book:
“What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power? What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others? And is it sane or insane to believe, as so many around us apparently do, in nothing? We can only answer these questions for ourselves. Our life and our death have taught us always to sympathize with the undesirables among the undesirables. Thus magnetized by experience, our compass continually points toward those who suffer.” – Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
PULITZER PRIZE BOOKS THAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. (Publisher’s description)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim.
Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Diaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time. (Publisher’s description)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. (Publisher’s description)