Monday, April 17, 2017

Nguyen, Viet Thanh (The Sympathizer)

This is obviously a super important volume in the history of American imperialism and aggression. I completely understand that, and I get that it needed to be written. But... it's bloody tedious.

The novel is written by a professor, and while the writing is absolutely a cut above average, it's once again my least favorite kind of novel. The kind wherein the author chooses an "important subject" and uses the novel to relay all the concerns about that "important subject," creating a plot that sets up the scenarios needed to teach about this "important subject". When you're done reading it, you feel like you've just taken a class and deserve a certificate for having finished it. I think these novels are very hard to write because they take a lot of finesse so that they don't seem like a lecture.

Nguyen gets most of the way there by creating a confused character, a double agent in the post-Vietnam war era, someone with real zeal for doing the right thing but not able to achieve it. However, there's just too much being tried here: the descriptions of the differences between America and Vietnam are overwhelming and repetitive, the objectification of women (especially Vietnamese women) is sadly behind the times, and the necessity of constantly having to remember who "won" that war and thus which side the character is really on is exhausting (and perhaps that was the point).

If the purpose of the book was to teach me about the Vietnamese-American experience, unfortunately, I think it missed its mark.

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