The Sympathizer

Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen

Finished: February 20, 2020

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Finishing this book, I am struck by Nguyen's mastery with language, plot, character development, and storytelling.

Nguyen has such mastery with prose and I underlined so many passages just because the prose was so beautiful or creative. His vocabulary is immense and he utilizes words and phrases in such familiar and surprising ways that are so beautiful, profound, expressive, and poetic. Also I just found his tone and language so funny. I found the humor dark and filled with irony. For example, the infamous squid masturbation scene is a bit obscene and funny and slightly uncomfortable, until he hits the punch with, this is nothing. War is horrible, people dying is horrible, but masturbation is nothing. And this really makes the reader reconsider their previous conceptions of what is disturbing and why certain things disturb us and certain things do not....

"Some will undoubtedly find this episode obscene. Not I! Massacre is obscene. Torture is obscene. Three million dead is obscene. Masturbation, even with an admittedly nonconsensual squid? Not so much. I, for one, am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word 'murder' made us mumble as much as the word 'masturbation.'"

In terms of the ending, where Man turns out to be the one keeping the narrator captive, I was reminded of the endings of two dystopian novels: Winston's "reeducation" by O'Brien in 1984, and John's meeting with Mustapha Mond at the end of Brave New World.

As an Asian American, the many symbolisms he evokes related to two-selves, half-selves, mixed-selves really resonated with me: that of being not wholly one, of being split in more than one way (Oriental vs. Occident, mother vs. father, Vietnam vs. America, Communism vs. capitalism). At the end there is a literal split between his selves as he starts to refer to himself as "we".