Nothing exposes the absurdities of power like great art. Orwell did this with Nineteen Eighty-Four. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is on that level, and his captain’s confession will change your view not only of the war in Vietnam, which he shows in brutal new light, but of war and its aftermath itself – right now. A dazzlingly written spy thriller that’s also very fun to read. Get it at The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen Street W), Northwood General (800 Bloor St W), Ezra's Pound (238 Dupont St), or The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W).
Here's an excerpt from the inimitable Terry Gross’s wonderful interview with Nguyen on yesterday's Fresh Air:
NGUYEN: . . . [O]ne of the first movies that I remember watching was Apocalypse Now. I was probably about 10. And I think that was the first indication, also, that I had that there was something called this war and that this was how Americans saw this war as one that had divided them. And that was my first glimmering that there was something like a civil war happening in the American soul and that we as Vietnamese people were caught up in that because I watched that movie as a good, American boy who had already seen some American war movies - John Wayne in World War II.
And I was cheering for the American soldiers until the moment in Apocalypse Now where they started killing Vietnamese people. And that was an impossible moment for me because I didn't know who I was supposed to identify with, the Americans who were doing the killing or the Vietnamese who were dying and not being able to speak?
And that moment has never left me as the symbolic moment of my understanding that this was our place in an American war, that the Vietnam War was an American war from the American perspective and that, eventually, I would have to do something about that.
[. . .]
GROSS: Do you see your novel The Sympathizer in part as an answer to that, as an alternative way of seeing the war, a way of seeing it through Vietnamese eyes as opposed to through American eyes?
NGUYEN: You know, absolutely. It's my revenge on Francis Ford Coppola.