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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The Ha Ha by Dave King

the ha ha picThe Ha Ha
by
Dave King

Rating:

The Ha Ha is an excellent novel about a Viet Nam vet with a severe brain injury, leaving him unable to speak. Thirty years after returning from Viet Nam, Howard Kapostash suddenly finds himself taking care of 9-year-old Ryan, whose mother Sylvia (Howard’s high school girlfriend) is in rehab for a cocaine addiction. Howard is middle-aged. His parents are dead. He lives in the house he grew up in with a detached group of boarders. Laurel, the only female, is a 30-something owner of a small gourmet soup business and helps Howard maintain the house. Two 30ish house painters, Steve and Harrison are new boarders.

Written through Howard’s viewpoint, this is a story of how Ryan comes to be the force that joins these people together, how Howard struggles to care for Ryan and how all the characters assume new roles. Howard’s actions are often well-meant, but several are based on terrible judgment and lead to bad results, leaving Howard unable to explain himself.

Howard is the kind of character you like despite his flaws and poor decisions. I was cheering for him all along. As Sylvia’s rehab continues, despite two disastrous visits, Howard imagines a new life with Sylvia and Ryan. All hopes unravel upon Sylvia’s return and Howard begins a downward and destructive spiral. These actions and the nagging question of why Howard never tried to learn sign language or another form of communication create a range of emotions in the reader. Anger for acting foolishly, for not caring enough to learn how to communicate, disgust for wallowing in drugs for years after his injury. Love for how much he cares about Ryan and how he steps up to the challenge.

The ending allows the reader to imagine the future and I still find myself wondering how Howard is doing.

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