I recently read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and it's one of the best books I've read in a long time. The style and tone is unlike any book I've read before; opulent and over-the-top, and yet extremely intimate. It's definitely not an easy read, but none-the-less it completely draws you in and keeps you ploughing through despite some pretty heavy content.

The story is set at the end of the Vietnam war, and is narrated by a communist spy from North Vietnam who is undercover in the South Vietnamese army. During the fall of Saigon he is evacuated to California where he begins a new life as a refugee (and continues to spy for the North Vietnamese.)

One of the big themes of the book is identity. The narrator is half vietnamese, half french, and has struggled with his own identity since he was a child. He is spilt in two, containing within his make-up both east and west. This plurality helps him to navigate his life as a spy, secretly upholding communist views, while pretending to celebrate the ideals of the West. He is able to sympathise with both sides.

The book also deals with the problems of identity for the Vietnamese people who have settled in America after the war, trying to navigate a new country and culture where they are invisible, second-class citizens. I found it really alarming to realise that this was the first time that I had encountered a story about the Vietnam War that wasn't told from an American perspective, and the book deals with the dominance of the western perspective as well.

There's a whole lot going on, and at times it gets very dark, but the theme of friendship is the thread that holds it all together, and by the end of the book, friendship is the only ideal left standing. I found The Sympathizer really rich and challenging, and would highly recommend it.

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