Award-Winning Books of 2016
384 pages; Grove Press
Nguyen's astonishing debut novel is a deep dive into the mind of a North Vietnamese army captain serving as a double agent after the fall of Saigon. The Sympathizer has all the smart spy intrigue that appeals to devotees of John le Carré and other masters of the secret-agent novel. But Nguyen ranges into more profound territory as his narrator moves through Los Angeles, reporting back to his North Vietnamese superiors. The book is richly funny—particularly the unnamed narrator's farcical experience on the set of an Apocalypse Now–type movie—and enriched by its understanding of the people who are directly impacted by war and espionage. ("No one asks poor people if they want war. Nor had anyone asked these poor people if they wanted to die of thirst and exposure on the coastal sea, or if they wanted to be robbed and raped by their own soldiers.") The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its rare grace and power, but it's also a reminder that the legacy of a war from a generation past has not gone away.