Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

The Sympathizer
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ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Happy July 1st!

Our July book for this month is the multi-award winning, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. My copy just arrived yesterday at my branch library so I will be picking it up today. Has anyone read it, reading it, planning on reading it, decided to pass on it?


Louise | 138 comments I've got it on audio but want to finish Homegoing first, then I've got Barkskins from the library so will have to listen to that first before eventually getting to The Sympathizer but I will get there.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I've got it on audio but want to finish Homegoing first, then I've got Barkskins from the library so will have to listen to that first before eventually getting to T..."

Ok, Louise, join us when you can. Is that the Proulx book? If so, it's really long I understand,


Louise | 138 comments Yikes, yes I just looked and it's 26 hours long....The Sympathizer is under 14 hours. I'm on vacation this week (on puppy watch to be more exact) so I won't be driving anywhere so my listening time will be rather limited. I only have a couple hours left on Homegoing. I think I will listen to The Sympathizer next then, and I can always re borrow Barkskins at a later date. Thanks for the heads up. I hadn't even noticed that.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
I am an immigrant.....I am also a human being, an American, a Vietnamese, an Asian and a refugee.

Viet Thanh Nguyen
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction


Time magazine essay just published this week: http://time.com/4389128/the-immigrant...

Website: http://vietnguyen.info

Author @ Politics & Prose (video) https://youtu.be/TJ5s5NCw6-w

Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viet_...

The Guardian review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

BookForum review: http://www.bookforum.com/review/14647


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I've got it on audio but want to finish Homegoing first, then I've got Barkskins from the library so will have to listen to that first before eventually getting to T..."

@ Louise - I will be interested in how Barkskins works as an audio book for you. I want to read and cannot decided between print and audio as I am thinking I might get too confused because the time span and many characters and who is related to who.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
An interesting note is that The Sympathizer is the first book to win both the Pulitzer and an Edgar Award (award by the Mystery Writers).


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "An interesting note is that The Sympathizer is the first book to win both the Pulitzer and an Edgar Award (award by the Mystery Writers)."

Wow, that's a good trivia question and perfect for Jeopardy.


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Myron Brown | 81 comments Beverly wrote: "An interesting note is that The Sympathizer is the first book to win both the Pulitzer and an Edgar Award (award by the Mystery Writers)."

That's interesting. Although I'm not so far into the book, I can't really see how this book fits the "mystery" category although there are some faint similarities to "thrillers."


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
I will be peeking in on this discussion. I read The Sympathizer a little while ago. For me this was an excellent read and I look forward to hearing what others thought of this book.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
There are 23 chapters in the book with no separation by Parts of any kind. Therefore, I have no idea where there would be an ideal place to divide the reading schedule. So how about just discussing in 4 parts:

Chap 1-6 July 4-9
Chap 7-12 July 10-15
Chap 13-18 July 16-25
Chap 19-end July 26-31


So, let's begin on Monday If everyone is ok with that.


Missy J (missyj333) Great idea Columbus!
I really look forward to reading and discussing this book! Have heard overwhelmingly good responses to this book!


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John Zulovitz | 1 comments Columbus wrote: "Happy July 1st!

Our July book for this month is the multi-award winning, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. My copy just arrived yesterday at my branch library s..."


I've read the novel and can say with no doubt that it is a masterpiece. Easily one of the best novels I have ever read.


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments I'm juggling The Sympathizer, which I have on Kindle, and Homegoing, which I borrowed from the public library. Kinda puts me all over the planet.


message 15: by Rebecca (last edited Jul 02, 2016 03:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rebecca | 386 comments Yay, my book wasn't suppose to come till Tuesday but I can pick it up now. I have been waiting for several weeks. I am excited to read this one from all that has been said about it. Also looking forward to the discussion and read of Homegoing.


message 16: by ColumbusReads (last edited Jul 04, 2016 09:01AM) (new) - added it

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Happy 4th of July! The discussion starts now!

I loved the opening line of this book. Not every great book has a great opening line (or first couple of lines) but, this one is fantastic. At least I think so: "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces."

Some comparisons have been made of Moby Dick with the opening line, "Call me Ishmael" I immediately thought of an opening line(s) from another book. Does the opening resonate at all with anyone? Do you like it? Does it remind anyone of anything?


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments Opening line from The Color Purple,
"You better not never tell nobody but God."


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
this one is fantastic. At least I think so: "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces."

I loved this opening line - it set the mood for me and this spoke to me watch out what the narrator says and does as he will often have conflicting reactions to what he is asked to do and what is going on around him.

While I initially did not think of this book as a "mystery" and was surprised when it one an Edgar award for first novel - now re-reading this opening sentence it does allude to there will be a mystery to solve - unconventional but still a mystery that will continue throughout the story.


Virginie (chouettblog) | 83 comments Hello everyone,

Looks like I will be running behind again, but will start as soon as I received my book:).


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Myron Brown | 81 comments Beverly wrote: "this one is fantastic. At least I think so: "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces."

I loved this opening line - it set the mood for me and this spoke to me watch out what the narrato..."


Well we do know this story is a confession written from a cell, so the overall mystery is what did he do that put him in that cell.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Keeping with the discussion schedule. I just finished the first six chapters of this book and there are many thoughts that went through my head while reading it:

Anyone else finding the first part of this book rather slow? I actually started this book several months ago prior to it being selected by this club and returned it back to the library. Wasn't enjoying it at all. Now, after reading a little more and after the crapulent Major assassination, it's picked up a bit.

I'm also having to research various things about the Vietnam War I didn't know beforehand and I'm enjoying that about this novel. Also, enjoying Nguyen's writing, particularly enjoy the narrator and his sarcasm and bombastic wit and I'm vacillating between liking him and not. I'm guessing my views on him will become quite clearer later in the novel.

Any thoughts?


message 22: by Myron (new)

Myron Brown | 81 comments Columbus wrote: "Keeping with the discussion schedule. I just finished the first six chapters of this book and there are many thoughts that went through my head while reading it:

Anyone else finding the first part..."


The narrator is a very passive character. His mission is supposedly to be a spy for the Communist cause and to subtly undermine the South Vietnamese cause but he just flows with whatever wind is blowing. He seems to be the way he is because that was the way he was taught when he was young. He certainly lacks the passion of his two childhood friends.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Trying to remember my reaction the first part.

I remember thinking should I believe what the narrator was telling me - as I wanted to "figure out" who he was.

At times I thought the narrator was covering all of his bases - but I didn't fault him for that.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Myron wrote: "Columbus wrote: "Keeping with the discussion schedule. I just finished the first six chapters of this book and there are many thoughts that went through my head while reading it:

Anyone else findi..."


I agree that his two friends were more passionate about their causes but I did not necessarily see the narrator as very passive. I thought in some ways that he presented the "face" in wanted to others and he seemed to be following "orders" - but he had issues/resentments that he was trying to work out within himself.


Virginie (chouettblog) | 83 comments Hello everyone,
I have finally started. Will catch with the group asap.


message 26: by Myron (new)

Myron Brown | 81 comments Beverly wrote: "I agree that his two friends were more passionate about their causes but I did not necessarily see the narrator as very passive. I thought in some ways that he presented the "face" in wanted to others and he seemed to be following "orders" - but he had issues/resentments that he was trying to work out within himself. ."

That becomes more apparent as the book goes along but initially he does come off as very passive and as a go with a flow type despite his assertion to contrary.

Then again it does seem that his time in exile does change him.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Discussing through Chapter 12 til 7/15


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Hmm, never considered the fact that he may be an unreliable narrator. I'm pretty much taking him for his word. I find him a little dispicable in a sense and likable and funny at the same time. Weird but true.


Louise | 138 comments I'm listening to it in audio and am finding the story hard to get into. I'm sure I'm missing big chunks of the story as my mind drifts off.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I'm listening to it in audio and am finding the story hard to get into. I'm sure I'm missing big chunks of the story as my mind drifts off."

How far are you into it? What chap?


Louise | 138 comments Columbus wrote: "How far are you into it? What chap?"

I have reached Chapter 4 but not started it yet.


Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 220 comments I wanted to read this one with the group, but I'll have to buy it (lots of holds now that it's a Pulitzer winner) and haven't yet. I'll join in if I can.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Oh, I'm reading the book and chap 4 is where I put it down the first time. Wasn't til I got a little further around chap 6 that it got more interesting for me.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Karen Michele wrote: "I wanted to read this one with the group, but I'll have to buy it (lots of holds now that it's a Pulitzer winner) and haven't yet. I'll join in if I can."

Yes, It's really in demand now. I tried to renew my copy but found out there's a hold so it needs to be back by July 15th. I'm speed-reading now.


message 35: by George (new)

George | 766 comments My copy showed up Saturday. Interesting so far.


Rebecca | 386 comments That is good to know Columbus. I read chapter 1 and though Oh No. I don't have a clue. Chapter 2 seems to be picking up. There is a lot of reference to Communist material how relevant is this to understanding the background or storyline?


message 37: by Myron (new)

Myron Brown | 81 comments Rebecca wrote: "That is good to know Columbus. I read chapter 1 and though Oh No. I don't have a clue. Chapter 2 seems to be picking up. There is a lot of reference to Communist material how relevant is this to un..."

While you don't need to know the tenets of Communism, the Vietnam War and everything surrounding it is about the Cold War.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "Columbus wrote: "How far are you into it? What chap?"

I have reached Chapter 4 but not started it yet."


@Louise - Will be interested how the audio read progresses for this book.

For me, especially at the beginning, it took me a little while to get my reading rhythm together.

The storyline is not necessarily linear so knowing when in the timeline of events the narrator is speaking to helped me put my arms around what was going on.

Also stream-of-consciousness passages helped me to understand who the narrator is/was.


Louise | 138 comments It's not an easy book on audio. I find it difficult to follow the story line. Instead I'm getting episodes here and there when I'm able to concentrate. I even started the first 3 chapters over, hoping it would help. It didn't. I should just bite the bullet and read it in paper instead but I'm not finding it that engaging a book to want to do that.


Missy J (missyj333) I'm having the same experience as you, Louise, except that I'm reading the electronic version of this book. At times, I'm blown away by the precise and fantastic flow of thoughts going through the narrator's mind (especially the symbols and metaphors he uses). But then I lose track of what's going on. Probably due to the stream-of-consciousness style of writing.

As the character reveals himself steadily, I keep thinking that I may have missed something or some symbolism at the beginning of the book, which makes me want to start the book from the beginning again. LOL


Sarah Weathersby (saraphen) | 261 comments Missy J wrote: "I'm having the same experience as you, Louise, except that I'm reading the electronic version of this book. At times, I'm blown away by the precise and fantastic flow of thoughts going through the ..."

I'm having the same problem. I read the first three chapters twice, and still don't have a solid grasp of what is going on. It makes me feel like I wasn't alive during the Viet Nam War although I was a college student at the time, involved in protests.


Louise | 138 comments I'm glad I'm not the only one. I'm now on Chapter 11, and quite honestly I can't wait to be done so I can move onto something else. I do enjoy the odd *episode* because that's how it reads, but as a novel as a whole it is far from gripping.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Myron wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "That is good to know Columbus. I read chapter 1 and though Oh No. I don't have a clue. Chapter 2 seems to be picking up. There is a lot of reference to Communist material how releva..."

@Myron - I agree that this book that understanding the Cold War helps with understanding what this book is about. I think it is very much a political tale but understanding a little about Vietnamese history helps to understand the individuals' reasoning for what they are doing.


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Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
Here is part of the Library Journal's review of this book to maybe help put this book into perspective of what the author is trying to accomplish.

Ultimately a meditation on war, political movements, America's imperialist role, the CIA, torture, loyalty, and one's personal identity, this is a powerful, thought-provoking work. It's hard to believe this effort, one of the best recent novels to cover the Vietnamese conflict from an Asian perspective, is a debut.


message 45: by Myron (new)

Myron Brown | 81 comments I'm heading towards the closing chapters of the book and it becomes apparent that the narrator is someone who is being used by everyone around him to the point where he does not even know who is and what he believes in anymore if he ever really believed in anything to begin with.


message 46: by George (new)

George | 766 comments Well, I'm really enjoying the book so far. haven't gotten all that far into it yet, I'm around chapter 9. But that's probably for me it's like old home week. I worked in the refugee program out of Thailand for 3 years although by that time (88-91) most of the interviews were actually taking place in Saigon. But I grew up during the war which was very much part of my consciousness up through college and beyond.

The congressman is based on an actual congressman, Bob Dornan who was elected in 76 and served in Southern California, off and on into the 90s where he was known as B-1 Bob. a former Air Force pilot before Vietnam, photographer in Vietnam for a bit and minor Hollywood TV actor, before running for Congress. His district had lots of Vietnamese refugees who were settled there after Guam and he was very actively engaged with that community, even had Vietnamese staffers, whom I regularly dealt with on various refugee cases, by mail anyway.

The refugee community was huge. We took in about 500,000 after the fall of Saigon and when I was working the program, we were interviewing 10,000 Vietnamese every month in Saigon. Few folks in the US had any idea. There were also Vietnamese refugee camps from Hong Kong to Indonesia. That program continued into the late 90s and now the US does large numbers of Vietnamese immigrants in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.


ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3865 comments Mod
Discussion open through Chapter 18.


message 48: by Beverly (new) - added it

Beverly | 2885 comments Mod
@George - Thanks for sharing your experiences.

And I thought the scenes at the beginning of the book when the US was leaving the country was very telling as the we left too many Vietnamese just holding the bag without any notice. Many who were "friendly" to the US knew there life would be hell and people fled the country by any means because they felt anything was better than being there.


message 49: by George (new)

George | 766 comments Thanks. I'd say though that there was no way the fall was ever going to be less than ugly. the place collapsed very quickly. once Thieu ordered the ARVN to retreat from the north, the army collapsed, as mentioned in the book. There were just far too many people to move and no where near enough time. As it was, we took about 500,000 to Guam and from there to the US in various camps that were set up in Arkansas and Florida. Air bases and ports were overrun, cutting off other possible departure points. not much to be done after the fall, except process folks who made it out on their own and were placed in the various camps. We did run the refugee program for a very long time, probably as much out of guilt as anything else. these days the Vietnamese community here is over 2 million. some of the high army and national police officers who didn't make it out spent 10-12 years in political prisons. certainly, not all survived. but we couldn't have run the program in Vietnam, known as the Orderly Departure Program without the full cooperation of the communist government, who put together possible interview lists of people they were willing to allow go. Of course, getting on that list meant paying the communists for the privilege. not everyone on the list was actually qualified for the refugee program, so we had to vet them first. that was my job, along with many others.


message 50: by George (new)

George | 766 comments I have to say I really liked the scenes with the film company.


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