Claudia Putnam's Reviews > The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-fiction, blazing-debuts, war-writing

Perfect from the first paragraph to the end. I just wonder if there was ever a good revolution or if the process of revolution just corrupts absolutely. Which then begs the question of whether the American Revolution was one.

I haven't happened to read much about the Vietnam War, beyond Nam Le, who hasn't written about the war itself so much, that hasn't been written by American Vietnam veterans or people who love them, so I appreciated this particular viewpoint and it's about time we had it.

There are other reviews out there far more comprehensive than I'll try to be here, as I've written elsewhere, as has almost everyone who's ever examined the revolutions of the 20th century, about the ways in which revolution consumes itself. So, here, I'll just quote a few passages from the book.

"We Marxists believe that capitalism generates contradictions and will fall apart from them, but only if men take action. But it was not just capitalism that was contradictory. As Hegel said, tragedy was not the conflict between right and wrong but right and right, a dilemma none of us who wanted to participate in history could escape. The major had a right to live, but I was right to kill him. Wasn't I?"

In a narrower study of this question, Linda Hogan transfixingly explores a Native American woman's need to kill an endangered Florida panther, a decision that is both terribly wrong and horrifyingly right, in her novel Power. Yet, what she shows us asks a deeper, spiritual question about the relationship of human beings to one another and to nature. Nguyen is asking a philosophical question about where ideology leads. Meanwhile, consistency, Emerson said, was the hobnob of little minds. Did he ever imagine we'd face what has arisen in the 20th century and beyond?

During torture sessions, country music is ceaselessly played. "Country music was the most segregated kind of music in America, where even whites played jazz and even blacks sang in the opera. Something like country music was what lynch mob must have enjoyed while stringing up their black victims. Country music was not necessarily lynching music, but no other music could be imagined as as lynching's accompaniment."

"Revolutions are for the people, from the people, by the people. That is our revolution!
"Nothing was so true, and yet nothing was so mysterious, for the questions of who the people were and what they might want remained unanswered. The lack of an answer mattered not; indeed the lack of an answer was part of the power in the idea of the people that brought the men to their feet and the tears to their eyes as like salmon that instinctively knew when to swim upstream, we all knew who the people were and who were not the people. Anyone who had to be told who the people were probably was not part of the people..."

"We have all kinds of ways to talk about life and creation. But when guys like me go and kill, everyone's happy we do it and no one wants to talk about it. It would be better if every Sunday before the priest talks a warrior gets up and tells people who he's killed on their behalf. Listening is the least they could do."

Right? I've said this myself. And it's something that a lot of tribal peoples do to some degree as a way of turning off the warrior switch when they want to reincorporate them as husbands and fathers. If we want our soldiers to go out and be monsters we should say, hey, you are going to have to go out there and be a monster. Go ahead, rape, beat, kill. Women, children, whatever. We accept this is what war is. When you come back, we'll participate with you by listening to exactly what you did and sharing in the guilt.

Or else we don't have wars.

(Though it did seem that the rape scenes were culturally American interpolations, but it was hard to be sure.)

"I understood, at last, how our revolution had gone from being the vanguard of political change to the rearguard of hoarding power. In this formation, we were not unusual. Hadn't the French and the Americans done the same? Once revolutionaries themselves, they had become imperialists, colonizing and occupying our defiant little land, taking away our freedom in the name of saving us. Our revolution took considerably longer than theirs and was considerably bloodier, but we made up for lost time. When it came to learning the worst habits of our French masters and their American replacements, we quickly proved ourselves the best. We too could abuse grand ideals!"
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Reading Progress

April 1, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 1, 2015 – Shelved
March 10, 2016 – Started Reading
March 10, 2016 –
page 0
0.0% "25% in and headed straight on to awesome, or so it seems."
March 14, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
March 14, 2016 – Shelved as: blazing-debuts
March 14, 2016 – Finished Reading
July 5, 2016 – Shelved as: war-writing

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