Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide
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"The Sympathizer" by Thanh Nguyen
• Barbie doll introduces three new body types
• Obama signs bill to ban term “Oriental”
• Pentagon lifts transgender ban
As a boy, Việt Thanh Nguyễn fled Vietnam with his family just prior to the fall of Saigon. His debut novel is purposefully intentionally different from “Apocalypse Now” which scarred Nguyễn.
Featured Reader Wanted!
– Share your key take-away about inclusion in this book in a sentence or two.
– Write a paragraph or two (up to 250 words) to describe your thoughts on exclusion/inclusion in the book, why you related or did not connect with the book, and why you think reading, inclusion and dialog about inclusion matter.
– Identify the name and website address of a cause you support with an inclusive mission.
Viet Cong spy operates in Siagon, LA, guerila mission
Narrator’s interrogation breakdown strategy: 27/4 in white room, white clothing, florescent lights on, continuous loop of Hank Williams “Hey, Good Lookin.’”
Perspective and characters in this novel are Vietnamese. Nguyễn observed in an interview that Vietnamese are typically “extras in the movies or as minor characters in the literature, and as people whose primary function was to be killed or to be saved or to be raped or to be spoken about.”
371 pages, 14 hours on CD. Not an easy read given disturbing content, double meanings/double life of the narrator, and when some key details about the narrator are revealed.
Understand Why. Actions and beliefs grow from life experience, ideology, culture, basic needs, relationships, physical/emotional state
Central characters are Vietnamese people who, for most of the novel were living in LA where white people are “easily scared by the nonwhite.” A movie director and the White Head of the Department of Oriental Studies are examples of American characters who display blatant bigotry. Women are brutalized. The main character was scorned because his father was a French priest and his mother was North Vietnamese.
Defile a squid and stuff it with ground pork, bean noodles and diced mushrooms. Be sure you score that special squid so you’re the one who has to eat it.
“Did anyone ask John F. Kennedy if he spoke Gaelic and visited Dublin or if he ate potatoes every night or if he collected paintings of leprechauns?”
Set up so you can so you can do surveillance on a crapulent frenemy as you meet.
Choose a Hollywood movie set in WW2 and a Vietnam War film and compare how combatants and people who live in the war zone are depicted. Who are the heroes, demons, victims, and the marginalized?
Compare the challenges of bi-racial Americans to the ostracism of the Vietnamese/French “bastard” in the novel.
Why does context and style matter in confession/self-criticism?
What is nothing?
The oldest and largest Little Saigon in the U.S. is in Orange County. LA area has many Vietnamese restaurants and shops in addition to the Vietnam War Memorial which represents cooperation between servicemen and the Vietnamese Cultural Court. The Lunar New Year celebration is in early February. Fort
No known TV or movie adaptation of Nguyễn’s Sympathizer.
An (unreleased) 2015 movie called The Sympathizer is not an adaptation of Nguyễn’s novel.
2020 Episode 5 PBS “Asian Americans: Breaking Through”
1979 “Apocalypse Now”
2021 Sequel: “The Committed”
2017 “The Refugees”
2016 “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War” https://www.npr.org/2016/05/17/478384200/author-viet-thanh-nguyen-discusses-the-sympathizer-and-his-escape-from-vietnam