‘The Committed’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen – The Sympathizer in Paris

‘The Committed’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2021) – 345 pages

It doesn’t happen very often. With his first audacious novel in 2015, Viet Thanh Nguyen immediately rose to the very top echelon of United States fiction writers. It told the story of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a fictional Vietnamese double agent known as the Sympathizer whose viewpoint we in the United States had not encountered before. Then following that success, in 2017 Nguyen published ‘The Refugees’, a powerful collection of stories about a few of the over 600,000 Vietnamese people that had to be evacuated from Vietnam after the United States lost the war.

Now we have ‘The Committed’. After having spent some time in the United States after having been evacuated there, the Sympathizer returned to Vietnam where he was immediately sentenced to a harsh re-education camp. Now it is the early 1980s, and he has wound up in Paris. There were quite a number of Vietnamese people who came to Paris back in French colonial times.

He decides to become a capitalist; in other words he is dealing drugs to left-wing intellectuals in Paris. He becomes a gangster, a capitalist gangster.

As he wanders the streets of Paris selling drugs, he is disguised as a Japanese tourist with a camera because no one cares about or notices a Japanese guy taking pictures. He is haunted by the ghosts of the two men he has killed, Sonny and the crapulent major.

Wherever he goes, the Sympathizer is “the most cynical person in the room”. As most of us true cynics are, he is most cynical of his own motives.

Being conversant with the writings of the famed French theorists, he enjoys contrasting their high ideals with the brutal conditions many of the people in French Indochina had to contend with under French colonial rule. Here he replies to Rousseau:

“Thank you, Jean-Jacques!…I learned to love confessing and have never stopped acknowledging my crimes of violence, torture, and betrayal, all of which our French masters had taught us through the violence and torture they had inflicted on us as they betrayed their own ideals.”

His scathing insights all developed from his early years living in Vietnam. For an engraving on a proposed statue of Ho Chi Minh, he suggests the following:

“Now that we are the powerful, we don’t need the French or the Americans to fuck us over. We can fuck ourselves just fine.”

If you like to have everything that you believe in confronted by hard logic, you will definitely like ‘The Committed’.

“I am through with your Western philosophies and beliefs and ideas and systems! Your Catholicism! Your colonialism! Your capitalism! Your Marxism! Your communism! Your nihilism too! I am not a nihilist, for I believe in something – I believe nothing is sacred! Life is full of meaning! And I am full of principles!”

‘The Committed’ is a novel of compelling ideas. It is a wicked political novel disguised as a humorous crime story.

“When it comes to crime stories, I think any crime writer who’s any good understands that the individual crimes are nowhere near as serious as the crimes of the state and crimes of corporations and crimes of the powerful,” Viet Thanh Nguyen said in an interview.

Every group of people throughout history has at some point committed atrocities against other groups of people. Perhaps, instead of recognizing our common humanity, we could be recognizing our common inhumanity. This is one of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s main points, and the more that I consider it, the more this point seems to be valid.

Grade :   A

2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m not sure that I like the sound of this one, but I really liked The Sympathiser.

    Liked by 1 person


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