Tuesday, September 20, 2016
History, or fiction?: Telling the story of the fall of Saigon
Started Viet Tranh Nguyen's Pulitzer-prize winning novel (how many times has it been thus described?), The Sympathizer, with high hopes and a lot of interest, being one who lived through those terrible war years but in a completely different country, different social and political sphere altogether - and who has written about that era and tried to recreate the feelings of conflict and fear and paranoia and loss and of something going on the world the seemed unique and epochal, and the music and art, all in an upheaval - so he's got a lot of material to work w/ and ground to cover. The first two or three chapters (long chapters - unusual in today's fiction) go over a lot of back story, material pretty familiar to many of us about the evacuation of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong - most recently seen in the Kennedy documentary about those days, Last Days in Vietnam (looked up title) and, for me, in the excellent play Viet Gone (coming soon to nyc). I found the first chapters full of lots of information but it almost seemed like a nonfiction account, the characters not yet emerging as distinct enough: the narrator (unnamed?) apparently writing his story as some kind of confession in a military prison (he addresses it to his "commandante") perhaps in today's Vietnam?, and he tells of his days as an aide to a Viet Minh general while he was actually a spy for the VC, and of his two best friends, blood brothers, Man and Bon, the former like the narrator in league w/ the VC and Bon a loyalist - the first chapters describe the machinations involved in engineering an escape from the collapsing city, the bribery, the connections, everything you'd expect - and of course for many - though not especially for the narrator - the leaving behind of family. Hoping that the characters emerge and grow more complex as the narrative develops.