The Sympathizer

Feb 20, 2017

One City One Book programs take the idea of a localized book discussion club and expand it to cover a whole city, Michael Rogers wrote in 2002.

The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping story of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon. While building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles, he is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam, though his parents were immigrants from North Vietnam, moving south in 1954. Once Saigon fell at the end of April 1975, the family fled to America, having to live in a camp for Vietnam refugees in Indianatown Gap, Pennsylvania.


Viet Thanh Nguyen and his mother in Ban Me Thuot in 1973.


I am a refugee, an American, and a human being, which is important to proclaim, as there are many who think these identities cannot be reconciled. In March 1975, as Saigon was about to fall, or on the brink of liberation, depending on your point of view, my humanity was temporarily put into question as I became a refugee.

My family lived in Ban Me Thuot, famous for its coffee and for being the first town overrun by communist invasion. My father was in Saigon on business and my mother had no way to contact him. She took my 10-year-old brother and four-year-old me and we walked 184km to the nearest port in Nha Trang (I admit to possibly being carried). At least it was downhill. At least I was too young, unlike my brother, to remember the dead paratroopers hanging from the trees. I am grateful not to remember the terror and the chaos that must have been involved in finding a boat. We made it to Saigon and reunited with my father, and, a month later, when the communists arrived, repeated the mad scramble for our lives. That summer we arrived in America.
—”Viet Thanh Nguyen on Being a Refugee, an American—and a Human Being,” February 6, 2017,


In the late 1970s, Nguyen and his family were able to move and San Jose. Nguyen’s parents opened a grocery store, one of the first of its kind in the area. Nguyen remembers these years (before the rise of Silicon Valley) in his short story called “The War Years.”


I can’t help but remember how, after we settled in San Jose, California, and my parents opened a Vietnamese grocery store in the rundown downtown, a neighbouring store put a sign up in its window: “Another American driven out of business by the Vietnamese.”
—”Viet Thanh Nguyen on Being a Refugee, an American—and a Human Being,” February 6, 2017,


Viet Thanh Nguyen


Nguyen studied at UC Berkeley, graduating in degrees in English and ethnic studies, as well as a Ph.D. in English. Currently, he teaches English and American Studies at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles. He is co-director for the Diaspora Vietnamese Artists Network and is editor of diaCRITICS, a DVAN blog.

Nguyen will be appearing at All Saints Church at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2.

For more information, visit or call (626) 744-7076.





In April 1975, the highway outside was strewn with combat boots and uniforms abandoned by South Vietnamese soldiers, hoping to hide their status after the loss of the war. Photo: AP (found at





Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena