This is the follow-up to “The Sympathizer,” a novel that won the Pulitzer, in which a Communist spy goes undercover after the fall of Saigon, then finds himself in a Communist re-education camp.
In “The Committed,” the spy has escaped and is headed to Paris, where he joins a gang of drug dealers. It’s possible to read this as a stand-alone, as I did, without having read “The Sympathizer.” Although I will definitely be going back to read the first novel now!
I read this slowly, over a period of weeks, because I needed time to digest it. This doesn’t strike me as a book you could, or should, read in one sitting. Nguyen’s writing is truly bold and unique: it includes fascinating flights of thought amidst slick espionage and the humorous and self-deprecating internal musings of the narrator.
Nguyen himself, as a child, escaped Vietnam with his family in 1975. Through his writing, he works through the experiences of refugees, as well as the failings of both capitalism, which works hand in glove with imperialism, and communism.
This novel also includes, I believe, a sentence that is over 600 words long and grittily rapturous, weaving through a violent encounter and escape that turns into a drug-fueled journey, both humorous and sublime, that metaphorically travels from the individual identity, to the collective, to a high-flying recognition of the Buddhist concept that all is one, and back again to the hardened and familiar feeling of isolation.
I can’t do the writing justice with my silly little summary, so please, just read the sentence -- and the novel -- for yourself. But please go in prepared, knowing that although Nguyen is painting with a full pallet that includes humor and heartbreak, action and suspense, this is first and foremost an exploration of philosophical notions around ideology, identity, war, memory and humanity.
Thank you Grove Press for the ARC!