Friday, June 24, 2016

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer
Title: The Sympathizer
Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen
Publication Date: 4/2/15
Pages: 371
Genre: Historical / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: It's the new Pulitzer Prize winner
Date Completed: 5/16/16

Summary: Told through the eyes of a political prisoner, the novel captures the fall of South Vietnam and the life of refugees in America.

What I Thought: Since starting the blog four years ago, I have been very faithful about reading each new Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner as soon as I could get my hands on it. This blog has challenged my reading habits in many ways, continually encouraging me to seek out things I would not read otherwise. I love that - even when I don't love the books themselves. 

I recognize why this book won the Pulitzer. It's well-written and it examines a largely unexplored time in history from a largely untold perspective. I mean - how many novels have you read about the fall of Vietnam from the perspective of a Vietnamese double agent? Yeah...I thought so. 

Despite the obvious skill Nguyen wields with a pen, I simply struggled to get into this novel. There was a lot for me to learn, but little to which I could relate. I recognize that I'm not going to find concrete facts with which to relate in many novels, but I'm not usually looking for that. I'm looking for underlying sentiment and emotion - human experience with which I can connect. I had a hard time finding that here. Once again, it's a novel largely dominated by male characters. The older I get, the more I am finding this to be a sticking point as a reader. I know not every story has women central to it, particularly historically accurate ones, but still. The women who did appear on the pages of The Sympathizer drew me in and kept me engaged. At the end of their scenes, I would find myself wallowing again, searching for commonality the story, the characters, the message...anything. 

I think there is value here. I mean, the book won the Pulitzer. That alone doesn't make it worthy, but it does denote something worth checking out, certainly. I just wish I had been able to see more of it. 

Quotes I Loved:
  • " ever so expensive as what is offered for free."
  • "This, as you might imagine, required every drop he could squeeze from a handkerchief soaked with the sweat of the can-do American spirit."
  • "With every strike of the iron shovel against the small mound of loamy earth, waiting to be poured back into the cavity from which it had been extracted, I tried believing that those two bodies were not truly dead but simply rags, shed by emigrants journeying to a land beyond human cartography where angels dwelled."
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Eh...probably not

A Reduced Review: I completely understand why it won the Pulitzer, but it failed to win me over.

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