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The Sympathizer
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2016 Book Discussions > The Sympathizer - General Discussion, No Spoilers (June 2016)

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message 1: by Caroline (last edited Jun 02, 2016 10:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Here's the no-spoilers thread for this month's open pick, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Feel free to share any thoughts, comments, or questions you may have about the book so long as they don't include spoilers.

Here are a couple articles about the book:

New York Times Book Review There are quite a few spoilers here so watch out.

The Guardian This has some spoilers, or at least hints at spoilers, but isn't quite as bad as the NYT piece.

An NPR interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen I haven't listened to the interview yet but it should be good based on another short interview I read.


message 2: by Portia (last edited Jun 01, 2016 09:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Portia I thought the book was wonderful. The main, but certainly not the only, thing I admired was the variety of author's pacing. Even though one episode would move as quickly as another, the pace of the episodes were discrete and clearly different. His humor was as dark as promised in the blurb written by T.C. Boyle. I found myself near tears with laughter in Chapter 6.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
I've read just under half of it and am enjoying it so far - certainly a fresh perspective - slightly reminiscent of Catch-22.


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
I'm also just under half. Catch-22 is a good comparison, definitely the same kind of dark, absurdist humor among the horrors. Some great writing as well, I stopped highlighting stand-out sentences, just too many of them.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
It's been a long time since I've read Catch-22 but it did pop up somewhere in the back of my mind as I've been reading the Sympathizer. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and have really been pulled in by the writing.


message 6: by Janice (JG) (new) - added it

Janice (JG) I'm also just under half way through, and I thought the beginning was fascinating and biting and heartbreaking, but it feels like it has bogged down some for me and I'm not sure why.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments I'm somewhere in chapter 8 - with the book 35% completed according to Kindle. I am enjoying it.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Janice(JG) wrote: "I'm also just under half way through, and I thought the beginning was fascinating and biting and heartbreaking, but it feels like it has bogged down some for me and I'm not sure why."

I think the book is highly engaging but the subject matter is pretty intense, which made it a bit hard for me to read too much at once. The book's pace slows in the middle but it certainly picks up by the end!


message 9: by James E. (new) - added it

James E. Martin | 76 comments just finished the 1st chapter. liking it immensely. having been to Saigon a couple of times I can relate to the atmosphere. the author's dry wit is fun, like when he talks about the origins of mixed race terminology & says the Brits in India also liked to nibble on dark chocolate! Looking forward to the plot advancing.


Portia The pace slowed noticeable for me after the section on the making of the movie. If I were to have a criticism, it would be that the author's transitions could be smoother.


James | 62 comments I'm now at the end of chapter 11. As Caroline says this is quite intense writing. Every second sentence seems to contain a gem of inference. I like it very much so far. I hope it doesn't slow down too much from here.


Trudie (trudieb) I have been sort of lurking around this group for a while but have never managed to read a book at the same time as the discussion. Thought I might start with this book and flag up my interest to participate in the discussion, although I have only just started in on the novel.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
Trudie wrote: "I have been sort of lurking around this group for a while but have never managed to read a book at the same time as the discussion. Thought I might start with this book and flag up my interest to p..."

Definitely feel free to join in the discussion at any point! This thread is technically ongoing through all of June but you'll still be able to post in here afterwards. The discussion might not be as lively then but some of us may chime in.


Trudie (trudieb) My first thoughts are, this is such accomplished writing for a first novel ? There is so much to take in with every paragraph. As I am reading (and really I am only just starting out) - I keep thinking of Adam Johnson's Pulitzer Prize winner The Orphan Master's Son, it will be interesting to see if I enjoy this more than that novel.


message 15: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Trudie wrote: "My first thoughts are, this is such accomplished writing for a first novel ? There is so much to take in with every paragraph. As I am reading (and really I am only just starting out) - I keep thin..."

The Orphan Master's Son is the book that hooked me on this group. Please do join in the whole book discussion when you're ready, Trudie--Id be interested to hear how you compare the two when finished!


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I also kept thinking back to the Orphan Master's Son while reading this one. I recently read Johnson's collection of short stories, Fortune Smiles and one of the stories (one about a former prison warden) came to mind as well. The Sympathizer seemed to have more of a message behind it so I enjoyed them each in different ways.


message 17: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
The discussion of The Orphan Master's Son was before I joined this group, and I don't remember the book getting much publicity in the UK, but it sounds like one I should read and just reading the blurb suggests more than a few similarities (notably the tone between tragedy and farce, which is often used to make unpalatable subject matter readable).


message 18: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Bonus Question:
Which historical figure was mentioned in both June group reads?


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
Hitler! Because Godwin's Rule applies to literature, too. (I'm guessing you had someone else in mind.)


message 20: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2576 comments Mod
Whitney wrote: "Hitler! Because Godwin's Rule applies to literature, too. (I'm guessing you had someone else in mind.)" There is a related rule that some wags apply to British political debates, that says that the first person to mention Hitler or Chamberlain is always the loser. I don't know the answer to Marc's question, but in my defence it is a few years since I read Netherland.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments I don't remember Hitler in either. My wild guess is that it was the author of The Art of War.


message 22: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Hitler is incorrect, but perhaps if both writers just kept writing they would have indeed mentioned Hitler (yes, I did have to Google Godwin's Rule, but it was more than worth it). If Sun Tzu was mentioned in both, I missed it. I'll give one more day before revealing the answer.


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
From The Sympathizer: "In another photo, civilians in the cast-off couture of refugees waved signs and clutched banners with the telegraphic messages of political protests. HO CHI MINH = HITLER! FREEDOM FOR OUR PEOPLE! THANK YOU, AMERICA! "

From Netherland: "Does that mean we should have supported Hitler in his invasion of Russia? We should have stood shoulder to shoulder with Hitler because he was proposing to rid the world of a mass murderer?"

Don't ever doubt the Hitler reference, man. It's always there.


message 24: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Note to self: Don't ever ask these questions without a digital copy of the books in question.

Fess up--did you know Hitler was mentioned in both books prior to the question?

The answer I was fishing for was:
Benjamin Franklin

He gets mentioned in Netherland as a fan of cricket and he gets mentioned in The Sympathizer as a fellow advocate of having an older female mistress/lover.

No longer doubting Hitler ever. Sun Tzu is probably in both, too...

Bonus points for everyone!


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
Benjamin Franklin is a much better answer.

I didn't know Hitler was mentioned in both books, I just played the odds (then typed the book name and "Hitler" into Google to confirm on Google Books.)


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
A thoughtful essay from Nguyen in the Sunday NY Times:

Trump Is a Great Storyteller. We Need to Be Better.


message 27: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Ken Burns's 10-part documentary, "The Vietnam War," is available free online here:
http://www.pbs.org/show/vietnam-war-not-edited/


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