2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction – Viet Thanh Nguyen for The Sympathizer

The Pulitzer Prizes

The winners have been announced and The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen has won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Viet Thanh Nguyen from youtube.com
Photo: youtube.com

What’s the book about?  Here is a summary from Amazon:

The Sympathizer

One of 2015’s most highly acclaimed debuts, The Sympathizer is a Vietnam War novel unlike any other. The narrator, one of the most arresting of recent fiction, is a man of two minds and divided loyalties, a half-French half-Vietnamese communist sleeper agent living in America after the end of the war.

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. But, unbeknownst to the general, this captain is an undercover operative for the communists, who instruct him to add his own name to the list and accompany the general to America. As the general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, the captain continues to observe the group, sending coded letters to an old friend who is now a higher-up within the communist administration. Under suspicion, the captain is forced to contemplate terrible acts in order to remain undetected. And when he falls in love, he finds that his lofty ideals clash violently with his loyalties to the people close to him, a contradiction that may prove unresolvable.

A gripping spy novel, a moving story of love and friendship, and a layered portrayal of a young man drawn into extreme politics, The Sympathizer examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Want to know more?  Check out this information from Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Amazon Author page:

Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of the novel The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015). He also authored Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002) and co-edited Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field (University of Hawaii Press, 2014). An associate professor at the University of Southern California, he teaches in the departments of English and American Studies and Ethnicity.

He has been a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (2011-2012), the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard (2008-2009) and the Fine Arts Work Center (2004-2005). He has also received residencies, fellowships, and grants from the Luce Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council, the James Irvine Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation.

His short fiction has been published in Manoa, Best New American Voices 2007, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross-Cultural Collision and Connection, Narrative Magazine, TriQuarterly, the Chicago Tribune, and Gulf Coast, where his story won the 2007 Fiction Prize.

His writing has been translated into Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Spanish, and he has given invited lectures in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Germany. He is finishing an academic book titled War, Memory, Identity.

You can learn more about Nguyen by visiting his website:  vietnguyen.info.

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After You by Jojo Moyes

After You

After You
Jojo Moyes


Lou Clark has her whole life ahead of her and she made a promise to live it fully. The problem is, she can’t seem to find a way to do that. After You is the sequel to Me Before You, the intense love story with impossible choices that’s hard to describe without spoiling the experience. Moyes’ new book picks up Lou’s story after Will Traynor is gone.

Lou has kept the first part of her promise to Will by moving to Paris, but she’s unhappy there and returns to London, a place where she continues to feel depressed and unsettled. A job at an airport bar offers no promise and a near-death experience fails to jump-start Lou’s desire to move on.

Many familiar characters return to Lou’s story, including her quirky family. Tentative ties to Will’s parents show how complicated Lou’s relationships are. And new characters muddle Lou’s ability to see what she needs to do.

Moyes tells Lou’s story in the same serious/funny style I loved in Me Before You, and the strength of that story reinforces this one. But After You seems to suffer the “sequel curse” as other second books do. Lou’s character rarely shows her lively and appealing former self. Of course, she’s depressed, so it’s somewhat understandable. And although there is a new love interest, the chemistry between them barely registers, compared to what happens between Lou and Will in Me Before You. Moyes includes a parallel awakening plot in which Lou’s mother takes a fresh look at her life, but that storyline seems a little stale. Other new characters are hard to get to know and run through their own flat plots.

The first half of the book is the stronger section. As the plot advances, however, some of the side stories seem forced, drawing on the appeal of the first book to lead the reader to a predictable finish, much different from the first book.

I’m glad I read After You, because I was curious about the characters, but this book doesn’t carry enough impact of Lou and Will’s story to stand on its own. All in all, a good follow-up read for fans of Me Before You, but otherwise a little plain.

For the full picture, check out my posts on Me Before You.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – No spoilers in this review!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – What would you do? – Warning: spoilers below

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Who’s That Indie Author? Tracy Ewens

Who's That Indie Author pic

Tracy Ewens
Tracy Ewens

Author name: Tracy Ewens

Genre: Romance

Books: Catalina Kiss and the A Love Story Series (Premiere, Candidate, and Taste – out 10/27/15, Reserved – out 2/9/16)

  Cataline-Kiss-by-Tracy-Ewens-360x570   Premiere_cover4 

  Candidate_cover5   Taste-by-Tracy-Ewens-360x570
Bio: Tracy Ewens writes contemporary romance and shares a beautiful piece of the desert with her husband and three children in New River, Arizona. She is a recovered theatre major who also blogs at From the Laundry Room.

Taste is her fourth novel, and the third in her A Love Story series. Tracy is a horrible cook, wishes she could speak Italian, and bakes a mean Snickerdoodle.

Favorite thing about being a writer: There are so many great things about being a writer. My mind is constantly working. I like that. There’s always something going on or something to figure out. I also like the people I meet in my head. It’s such a joy to create characters and then watch them evolve through a novel. They tell the story most of the time. I’m sort of like a crossing guard. I make sure they don’t get too far off track. Writing is honestly the very best job in the world, and believe me, I’ve had a few other jobs.

Biggest challenge as an indie author: That’s a toss up between finding the right support and promotion. It has taken me a while to find the right team of editors, etc. When I was traditionally published, I wrote the story and emailed the manuscript. What went on after that was simply a matter of, “This is how we are going to do it,” and me nodding. Publishing independently allows for so many freedoms, but with those come a pretty huge responsibility to present professional work that can compete with the sea of traditionally published stories backed by large houses. Typos, mistakes, are a death sentence for independent work because readers tend to discount you as an amateur.

Promotion is really my own personal hurdle. There are more avenues for independent promotion than ever before, but I often long for someone to tell me what to do and where to be. Selling myself, my work, is not a natural thing for me; so when I have to do it on my own, motivate myself, it can be challenging. But, promotion is part of the deal and I get better with each book.

Favorite book: Such an unfair question, Barb. On a desert island, I can only bring one book . . . Great Expectations. It’s as perfect a book as I have ever read, in my humble opinion. J

Contact Information: Website: tracyewens.com; Blog: fromthelaundryroom.com

Are you an indie author looking for some positive publicity? Do you want to build your indie author network? Why not get your name out on Who’s That Indie Author?

Email bvitelli2009@gmail.com for a bio template and other details, and follow along on Book Club Mom to join the indie author community!

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What’s up next? Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenI just started reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The book jacket includes the following description:   “An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.”

In the first chapter, Arthur Leander, a famous actor, suffers a heart attack during a performance of King Lear at a Toronto theater. Jeevan Chaudhary is in the audience and jumps onstage to try to save him, using his skills as an EMT-in-training, but there’s nothing he can do. Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress, stands onstage and watches in fear.  As Jeevan walks home from the theater, he gets a call from his good friend, Hua, a doctor at the city hospital.  Hua tells him to leave the city right away.  A flu pandemic is about to take over the city…

This is Mandel’s fourth novel. Here’s a short biography from her website, emilymandel.com:

EmilyStJohnMandel pic
Emily St. John Mandel – photo by Dese’Rae L. Stage

St. John’s my middle name. The books go under M.

Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. A previous novel, The Singer’s Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet picHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford


Jamie Ford’s historical fiction is a sentimental World War II love story about the forbidden friendship between a twelve-year-old Chinese American boy, Henry Lee, and his Japanese American classmate, Keiko Okabe. Set in Seattle, Washington, the story begins in 1986 as Henry mourns the death of his wife, Ethel. When Henry passes the historic Panama Hotel, he sees its owner announce the newly discovered, forgotten belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during the war. Henry wonders if Keiko’s things are among these unclaimed possessions and he dares to hope to find a special gift from long ago.

Ford looks at a dark period of American history in which Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II, for fear they were collaborating with Japan. Chinese Americans also disliked and shunned Japanese immigrants, including Henry’s father, a devoted Chinese nationalist. Henry and Keiko are drawn to each other, as the only Asian students on scholarship at their school, and a deep friendship develops. When Keiko’s family is sent away, Henry wonders if he will ever see her again.

Henry struggles with his feelings of loyalty to his family culture and his own desire to embrace an American independence, which is paralleled in the modern portion of the story, between Henry and his son, Marty. But the young Henry discovers he doesn’t fit in either worlds. His father forces Henry to speak only English and Henry is shunned and bullied by his American classmates for being Chinese.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an enjoyable love story, with some predictable characters, including Sheldon, a black saxophone street musician, Mrs. Beatty, a rough-talking lunch lady at Henry’s school, and Chaz the bully. And while the plot takes some twists and turns, it winds up in a nice place.

Although Ford’s story is for all readers, I think it fits nicely into the Young Adult genre, because of its historical background and somewhat simple plot.

Click here to learn more about the Panama Hotel.

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What’s up next? Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet pic

I’m looking forward to starting Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I’ve heard only good things about Ford’s debut novel, a work of historical fiction which was published in 2009. Here’s a quick description, taken from the back of my copy:

In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s – Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

the time travelers picThe Time Traveler’s Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

2 book marks

The idea of someone who travels between past and present is interesting, if not totally original and I give the author credit for tackling this kind of story. The problem I have, however, is that many of the scenes are uncomfortable and unnatural.

Niffenegger clearly spent a lot of time coordinating the dates of Henry’s appearances and she plants the hints of the story’s end in appropriate places. But the jumping around is too frequent and awkward. To help the reader, Niffenegger supplies an unending supply of references of Chicago, music, stock market activity, pop culture, etc. I get the feeling she Googled every decade from 1960 to present and crammed in all the results.

Not my favorite – this story is a fast, casual read.

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier


Rebecca is a great example of excellent and timeless writing. Daphne du Maurier’s story is suspenseful with plenty of well-thought out characters who give us a look into the life of the old English elite. How does a young bride find her place at the Manderley mansion as the second Mrs. de Winter? We watch as she stumbles through her early weeks at Manderley and tries to acquire Rebecca’s grace, please her husband, and earn the respect of the household staff and Maxim’s friends and family. All the while staying far away from the menacing Mrs. Danvers. The plot develops into an exciting twist of events that keep you reading enthusiastically straight to the finish.

Mr. and Mrs. de Winter are very busy and keep to an active schedule, but it is all leisure. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the lavish tea-times. How funny to think of people living this way!

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