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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Excellent account of the exile's life in the U.S. in The Sympathizer

The writing definitely picks up in chapter 3 of V T Nguyen's The Sympathizer, as he recounts the difficult evacuation from the U.S. embassy in Saigon. The narrator (unnamed?) is on what appears to be the last transport out - they're attacked by VC as they taxi toward takeoff, and we get a harrowing scene of confusion and carnage, leading to the death of the child of his best friend, Bon. The scene is cinematic - that could be good or bad - and really not very probable but it does kick this story into a higher gear. And then he's off, first to a holding camp in Guam, then to a camp in California, and then settled into a clerical job at a college (Occidental, I think) in LA, where he'd studied English and made some connections years back. At this point - he's in a small apartment and rooming with the desolate and traumatized Bon - we get a sense of the hardship of immigrants' lives, maybe especially those who were well off in their homeland (thinking of Andre Dubus III's fine novel about Iranians settled in California, can't remember the title). We also get some terrific writing from Nguyen - some passages are incantatory and read like prose poems. It seems, if these chapters are predictive, that he writes more powerfully and emotionally about the immigrant, exile life - in the States in this case - less so about life in Vietnam. Up to this point, we know that the narrator was a spy for the VC and that he believes his childhood as an outsider - born out of wedlock, his father was a Catholic priest, he was shunned by many - led him to adapt well to the life of a spy, but we don't know much (yet) about what specifically drew him to this life - much less about how his double-agent background will affect his postwar life in the U.S.

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