HITTING SHELVES #18: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen comes out today!

It’s the story of a South Vietnamese army captain during the Vietnam War whose allegiances are irrevocably torn. For one thing, he’s spying for the Communists. For another, his two best friends from childhood are on opposite sites of the war, and he’s doing his best to keep them alive. With twists and betrayals worthy of Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, Viet Thanh Nguyen has written THE novel about the fall of Saigon and its aftermath, a novel that puts Vietnam at the center of the Vietnam War. Part espionage, part existential crisis, and part Hollywood farce, The Sympathizer humanizes and complicates our understanding of one of the most vivid conflicts in history.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of The Sympathizer?

12:01 AM Still awake. Can see toddler sleeping peacefully via the monitor. Break open the Lagavulin instead of the Johnny Walker Black and pour a double. It’s a special day.

12:46 AM. Check Facebook. Google your name. Google “The Sympathizer.” Check Amazon.com rankings. Time for another double.

1:48 AM. The Benadryl and Scotch cocktail is working at last…

7:48 AM. Toddler body slams the bedroom door and screams “Daddy!”

7:49 AM. Check email on iPhone. Check Facebook. Go out to face the toddler and help his mother.

10:00 AM. Get hair cut.  Chat with hairdresser about the adult charms of Disneyland, his favorite place.

11:00 AM to 1PM. Maintain a semblance of a normal day. Write, write anything, it doesn’t matter what.

1PM. Drive from the eastside of LA to the westside, Santa Monica, for a radio interview. It’s a different world. The air feels cleaner, brighter, more expensive. Your favorite sitcom of your refugee days, so universal even your parents loved it, was “Three’s Company,” set in Santa Monica.

2:30 PM. KCRW interview. Are there headphones? Worry about the headphones messing up your new hairdo, which requires space. You like big hair. Bemused by how your voice, when you listen to it on recordings, sounds like your older brother’s.

3:30 PM. Faced with driving back across LA on a Friday afternoon. Take the 10 East and crawl? Or take the surface route with stop-and-go traffic that gives the illusion of movement? Every day LA drivers are faced with this existential choice.

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen

5:00 PM. Arrive home in time to meet the toddler returning from his afternoon jaunt. Check for cuts and bruises. As long as there are no broken bones, everything’s okay.

5:15PM Redo the hair. This might take a while.

5:46 PM. Done with the hair. Try on your outfit. It should be form-fitting. You are approximately fifteen pounds above college weight and holding steady without exercise. Just stay away from the pint jars of Jamoca Almond Fudge at the Baskin Robbins only a five-minute walk away.

6:15 PM Drive in two cars to the bookstore, Skylight in Los Feliz  The partner thinks it’s a good idea to take the toddler along so he can see his daddy read. You are not sure this is a good idea. She drives the toddler in the Prius, standard issue for the middle class in your neighborhood.

7:00 PM. The cocktail called the Sympathizer, mixed by bartender and book rep Andrea Tetrick, is ready. But you cannot drink it. You must wait until after the reading to keep your wits sharp. This is painful.

7:30 PM. The reading starts. Play choose-your-own adventure with how the toddler reacts to being confined in a room with many big people and his daddy standing up there who must be begging to be played with.

7:50 PM. Do the Q&A with actor François Chau, best known for playing Pierre Chang on “Lost,” and the reader of your book for the Audible version. This feels very LA, which is much better than feeling very San Jose, where you grew up.

8:30 PM. The reading and book signing are over. It’s all over. The partner has gone home with the cranky toddler, well past his bedtime. Now it’s you time with the cocktails.

9:00 PM. Take friends to dinner at either the French bistro at the corner, or, if that’s too crowded, the hipster diner at the other corner where all prices end in 62 cents.

11:00 PM. Drive home in your unmodified and very fast Japanese sports car that you hardly ever get to drive in because of the toddler. Enjoy being single for ten minutes.

11:10 PM. Partner is asleep. Toddler is asleep.

11:30 PM. Reflect on the day and think how you thought this might never happen. Feel grateful and wish your family could be here.

12:00 AM. Still awake. It’s not a special day anymore, but what the hell, break open the Lagavulin and pour yourself a double.

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