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Episode Discussions > Ep 155 The Sympathizer

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message 1: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasathogglestock) | 251 comments I can't believe that we edited out the bit of the podcast where we actually chose The Sympathizer. Hopefully, by now you have all figured it out.

You have until the first Monday in September to read it and send us your questions/comments. You can write something or send us an MP3 file. If you do intend to send an MP3 file contact Simon on The Readers blog email and he will let you know how to do that.

message 2: by Elizabeth☮ (new)

Elizabeth☮ I have put in a request at the library. This book was on my radar anyway, so I am glad for a push to get to it sooner.

message 3: by Louise (new)

Louise | 154 comments I listened to it on audiobook a few weeks ago - look forward to the discussion :-)

message 4: by Mara (new)

Mara (mrlzbth) | 8 comments I'm on my library hold list as well...I think I ought to be able to get it just in time!

message 5: by Melissa (new)

Melissa | 92 comments Yay! I just finished a book today, so I can start on The Sympathizer!

message 6: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 27 comments Thomas ~

I just got the book today . I am so happy we are reading that one . I am reading along with audible with whyspersync ! I love to read that way to write reviews for my blog and other freelancing . I wanted to read this when it won the Pulitzer . I was just to bogged down with other good stuff.

So , Joy! Joy! Here we are...

message 7: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 13 comments I finished the book a couple of days ago, but my experience with it may well have been tainted by the interaction I had with the author a few days before I started reading it.

Apart from some creepy inter-species masturbation stuff early on which goes nowhere, I had a bunch of problems with the novel.

Ironically, given Nguyen's confirmation that he supports a cultural boycott of my country, I felt some sympathy with the narrator for smuggling a copy of the book back here from London.

In defiance of the boycott, I shall lend my copy to as many people as possible, but it won't be with a terribly strong recommendation, sadly.

message 8: by Louise (new)

Louise | 154 comments I see you gave it 1 star less than I did Daniel - I liked parts of it, and it was certainly different, but (view spoiler)

message 9: by Carol Ann (new)

Carol Ann (carolann1428) Did I enjoy this book? Not really.

Am I glad I read it? Absolutely.

Here's why

message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasathogglestock) | 251 comments FYI: I am going to ignore this thread until after I have read the book in August.

PLEASE no one post spoilers for any visitors that may stumble onto the thread.

If you have specific topics/questions/comments for the discussion Simon and I will have on the podcast please direct message one of us or email Simon.

message 11: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 11 comments excellent choice- I am two thirds through it and can't put it down, shame I have to go to work tomorrow and the discussion won't happen until September.

message 12: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 11 comments An astonishing book with so much to discuss. Thanks for the recommend I was thoroughly absorbed by the story which explores many issues- I will say no more although would be really interested to read other people's thoughts. will be one of my books of the year that I may have to reread as I suspect I will get much more on a second view.

message 13: by Michael (new)

Michael (mjforgit) I came away with mixed feelings about this book. It certainly resonated with me for days after I finished it. It's a bit too early to address the specific issues but I do look forward to the discussions to come. Cheers all.

message 14: by Robin (new)

Robin (tijgerlil) | 29 comments Wow, wow, wow. What an incredible book. I will be writing my own review at some point today on Goodreads but after I finished it last night I was practically shaking with emotions.

This book brought up so many relevant issues happening today I almost forgot it is supposed to be relating a time long past.

Can't wait to hear what you guys thought of it.

(and yes, I'm aware I'm late finishing it.... Took me a bit longer to get into initially.)

message 15: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 27 comments Robin Bo ~ I am not done yet either and yes , it is so relevant to what is going on in our world today . Really makes you notice how much power government really has . Before I read this book , I read a book about the Pentagon Papers and Watergate that really put the ending of the Vietnam war in perspective and the beginning to . Gave me a whole new meaning to the name " Dirty Dick" Nixon . Now catch this , Saul Alinksy was mixed up in all of that back then and before it fell apart , Saul Alinksy had asked a very ambitious and academically smart up and comer to join his team ! Right as things fell apart she got out . It was one and the same , Hillary R. Clinton . She has been surrounded by dirty business since she got out of law school or maybe as she was doing her internship. In going back, I am finding names that have lead to government corruption that if we do not get away from now the regular people in our country will not be able to dig their way out. I hope everyone knows or remembers that Hitler's party started out as Social Democrats in Germany . They were not Communists . Stalin was the Communist. The Vietcong were Communists ! Hitler and the Japanese years before him had started the idea of the Master Race issue . The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang tells how almost 42 years before Japan invaded China and started to clear China of all cities and villages on Chinese because Japanese thought they were superior . They had a holocost of their own and then came to us per Pearl Harbor . Those two World Wars are still causing more and more problems . Those wars were created from earlier wars about controlling territory. War never ends . The sacrifice of the innocent people is what saddens me so . So much anger from greedy power thirsty people start these wars with no concern for the beauty of life. And yes, I believe every life is beautiful. Look in the eyes, a smile , here their song or laugh. There is something good in every life or they would not be here. Maybe I am naive . I just have faith in God and that is a Christian God . It seems I must specify now . I hope that will not be held against me in any way . I am simple stating that is what gets me through. Others have the freedom to say what gets them through too . That is why we have free choice in our lives . There should be know argument over the rights of an individual as long as they do not interfere with another.
Sincerely ,

message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasathogglestock) | 251 comments We are accepting comments through the 21st. Simon's schedule is crazy right now so we are probably delayed in timing of recording the episode, but hopefully won't take as long as The Night Guest discussion.

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 64 comments My book club is discussing this a week from tomorrow (on the 24th) so I've started but I'm only 150 pages in or so. I'm really noticing his use of language, a very memorable use of the word perineum in a far different way than I've ever seen, hahahaha. Not a body part, and I've never seen that before.

I wanted to point out that the author is on the longlist for the National Book Award in the non-fiction category for his memoir about growing up in Vietnam. I am hoping to read it alongside the novel just to bring more to the conversation, but I may or may not meet the 21st deadline. :)

That book is Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.

message 18: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt | 13 comments So I found the book tonally inconsistent and wildly misogynist. Every female character is either a nympho, hag or manic dream pixie girl. None of them have any agency at all. The narrator's first act after committing a political murder is to sodomize the daughter of the man who ordered him to kill. It's retrograde and fairly repellent.

The author has written this off as a function of his narrator's characters as a poor man's James Bond, but I'm not sure I buy it.

message 19: by Anna (new)

Anna Baillie-Karas | 9 comments Thank you - lucky as I was more 'autumn read-along' by the time I got to the book - glad I did though. I think there will be plenty to discuss with this one!

I've emailed some thoughts via gmail.

My review is here too:

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 64 comments I have to say I'm marking so many little bits of this book. Now halfway through. I think it is fascinating to see "us" ie: the Americans from an outsider perspective. Just finished reading about the making of the movie, which brings up issues of power and representation.

message 21: by Robin (new)

Robin (tijgerlil) | 29 comments I had asked Professor Nguyen a question here on Goodreads and he was kind enough to answer it! I could easily ask him a thousand more questions, but that seems drastic!

I'm still working my way through The Sympathizer and I'm enjoying it thoroughly, but it's the message that the book is conveying (or that I think it is) which is really hitting home. My question is; did you write this knowing that societies issues of representation and acceptance are such important talking points at the moment? Was this your way of using past events to illustrate current struggles? Or am I way off?

thanks for the question, Robin. I'm a scholar, and issues of representation and acceptance are critical in my work. Things haven't changed that much from the 1960s and 1970s when it comes to how "differences" and minorities, or others, are represented or accepted (or not) by dominant society. So I could write about the past and be aware that those events could comment on the present.

message 22: by Robin (new)

Robin | 3 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "My book club is discussing this a week from tomorrow (on the 24th) so I've started but I'm only 150 pages in or so. I'm really noticing his use of language, a very memorable use of the word perineu..."

My book club is discussing it tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to hearing their reaction. How did your discussion go?

message 23: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimfurry) | 12 comments You know how after you read a book and it percolates for a while sometimes your opinion of it changes? When I first read The Sympathizer about a month ago, I sort of liked it. I admired the cleverness of the writing, and, I don't know, the fact that the story held my attention. It's true I had never read a story like it.

But now that it's been percolating, I've decided that I hate it. I think it was a brutal thug of a book.

Really looking forward to hearing what Simon and Thomas think of it.

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 64 comments Robin wrote: "My book club is discussing it tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to hearing their reaction. How did your discussion go?

Most people felt it was one of the better books they'd read. Many of them are of the age where they were aware of the news, etc, during the Vietnam war (I'm a few decades younger!) and felt it was in their face but made them think. We talking about "nothing," the Sonny issue and the NpR interview with the author (Fresh Air, quite good at providing some context).

While the last 100 pages are brutal, they had some parallels to me with dystopian novels like We or 1984, where the mindf*cking is all in the name of getting a person to give in, at last, to their way of thinking.

To me the writing of the first 100 and the final 3 pages is the most memorable. I'm not as interested in the representation in film side story, but his non-fiction book is EVEN more saturated with it; I did a little digging and found even his dissertation was about Asian American representation.

I appreciate his ongoing assertion that he is a refugee, not an immigrant. That his life (and the fictional characters' lives) has been altered forever by war, etc. We like to point out the "American" dream and dismiss the conflict if someone has found success, but they never would have had to. I appreciated this stark reality and my book club talked at length about this, because we have a refugee in our group, who escaped from East Berlin in the 1950s. We also have several expatriates from other places. So there was a lot for them to identify with.

message 25: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasathogglestock) | 251 comments I totally want to chime in on this discussion, but for those of you who haven't heard episode 160 yet, Simon hasn't even started reading it yet! I was a bit shocked to hear that myself. I thought it went to Italy with him or on some other trip.

We will get to it sooner or later!

message 26: by Alex (new)

Alex | 7 comments for those who have finished reading, there is a really brilliant discussion about The Sympathizer here (

Gives you so much to think about with a book with so much meat to it.

message 27: by Robin (new)

Robin | 3 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Robin wrote: "My book club is discussing it tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to hearing their reaction. How did your discussion go?
Most people felt it was one of the better books t..."

Thank you for the recap! It definitely is a novel that invites discussion. I've enjoyed listening to the author's interview on NPR and elsewhere. I've been think about reading his non-fiction book too. I'm waiting for it to come in at the library. Unfortunately, my book club had to postpone the discussion. Half the members could not make the meeting so we'll discuss at a later date. Maybe I'll have time to read Nothing Every Dies before we next meet.

message 28: by Gail (new)

Gail | 17 comments Another interview with the author to enjoy:

message 29: by Mara (new)

Mara (mrlzbth) | 8 comments I just finished this yesterday (I won't feel too badly about that since Simon also just got around to it recently!) and am in the "mixed feelings" camp. I really liked the parts about representation and how the "West" thinks about the "East" and I appreciated getting a perspective on Vietnam that I hadn't gotten before. But I have some reservations about how women were used in the plot and I'm not sure yet what I think about how it all ended. It does feel like a book where my feelings may change as I get some distance from it and have time to think about it as a whole.

Also, that squid scene left me speechless. Not usually a prude but that was a bit much for me!

message 30: by Alex (new)

Alex | 7 comments Mara wrote: "I just finished this yesterday (I won't feel too badly about that since Simon also just got around to it recently!) and am in the "mixed feelings" camp. I really liked the parts about representatio..."

this discussion i posted before ( tackles the issue of representation of women.

message 31: by Vinny (new)

Vinny (billypar) | 5 comments Overall, I liked it a lot- a solid 4/5 stars, though in a strong reading year, I would probably rate it in the bottom 50% of my 2016 reads.

My favorite part was Nguyen's writing style. He's got that Nabokovian delight in running like mad with themes and word play that really makes it fun to read (though at times I wondered if it was too clever or too aware of what it was trying to do). I really liked the final 100 pages because of how effectively the narrative seems to fall apart due to the considerable distress of the main character.

The movie filming was my least favorite part--probably because satire isn't my favorite genre, and this seemed to have the most over-the-top satirical jabs. But overall, the book struck enough notes in terms of both sheer entertainment and interesting musings on culture, identity, and historical narratives to recommend it. Looking forward to hearing the discussion!

message 32: by Ruthiella (new)

Ruthiella | 272 comments Just saw on Simon's booktube channel that he has finally finished this book! I presume the he and Thomas will be discussing it fairly soon : )

message 33: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 27 comments You know I heard these on the news the other day and it is not something I quite realized and I do not know why ! I really think it is sad too .

Once you come into our Country in America as a political Refugee , we set you up with money , a home, a job , food, clothing, health care , etc... all on the taxpayers of our country . Once this happens , these refugees must acclimate as citizen of the USA . They are told they can never go home unless they establish this citizenship and want to visit and return once war is long over . While war is going on , no way they can return to their home . Most are considered traitors and are banned at the collapse of a government anyway. Just as we see in The sympathizer , no one will return home .

In the case of Syrian refugees right now , or Cuban refugees, etc... they can't go home or they will be killed. The Mexican refugees will be returned but most in Mexico are never known to be missing until they return . I have never thought about what Mexico does with their people who are returned . I feel I must know now . I also think that it must not be much for them to keep going back and forth . Mexico does not monitor their border as we do .

This is the next question I want to know. I also wonder if The Sympathizer would have been so popular a book this year if we had not been dealing with so many immigrants and refugees . Then again , literature has always been a reflection of the historic period of our time . So, here we are !


message 34: by Thomas (new)

Thomas (thomasathogglestock) | 251 comments Hey everybody. WE ACTUALLY RECORDED THE SYMPATHIZER EPISODE TODAY!

Don't you think that was worth shouting about?

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 64 comments Thomas wrote: "Hey everybody. WE ACTUALLY RECORDED THE SYMPATHIZER EPISODE TODAY!

Don't you think that was worth shouting about?"


message 36: by Carol Ann (new)

Carol Ann (carolann1428) Thomas wrote: "Hey everybody. WE ACTUALLY RECORDED THE SYMPATHIZER EPISODE TODAY!

Don't you think that was worth shouting about?"


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