5 Questions with Viet Thanh Nguyen

sympathizerThis Thursday City Lights Bookstore welcomes Viet Thanh Nguyen, who will be reading from his acclaimed debut novel, The Sympathizer, a book T.C. Boyle says is “destined to become a classic.” Viet took the time to answer our 5 questions before the event.

Event: Thursday, April 23 at 7:00PM. Viet Thanh Nguyen reading from his book, The Sympathizer: A Novel (from Grove Press) at City Lights Bookstore.

About the Book: 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. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s astonishing novel takes us inside the mind of this double agent, a man whose lofty ideals necessitate his betrayal of the people closest to him. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

“Magisterial. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic take on the fall of Saigon and its aftermath and a powerful examination of guilt and betrayal. The Sympathizer is destined to become a classic and redefine the way we think about the Vietnam War and what it means to win and to lose.”—T. C. Boyle

vietAbout the Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, as well as a member of the steering committee for the Center for Transpacific Studies. He has won numerous teaching and service awards. He is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002.) His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books, including PMLA, American Literary History, Western American Literature, positions: east asia cultures critique, The New Centennial Review, Postmodern Culture, the Japanese Journal of American Studies, and Asian American Studies After Critical Mass. 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.

visit: http://vietnguyen.info/ for more.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The first time I visited City Lights was around 1996, when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. I was on a date with a beautiful girl whom I had met when she came to a poetry reading I had organized and read a poem at the open mic. No surprise, she’s now my wife. The fact that we were both thrilled to visit City Lights was a good early sign that we had something in common.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

VTN: “The Hours,” by Philip Glass, and “Lady’s Bridge,” by Richard Hawley. I listened to both extensively during the writing of the book, each one doing something different to get me in the mood. “The Hours” was haunting and repetitive (in a good way), “Lady’s Bridge” was sorrowful and melancholic. All those adjectives can be used to describe parts of my novel, at least in my imagination of it.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

VTN: I have no idea. I remember going to the library in Harrisburg, PA, with my parents, where we had settled as refugees. I remember getting books from a book truck, too. But the first book I can clearly remember is a book I didn’t like, Where the Wild Things Are. That makes me weird, right? But I was a young refugee living in a dark house, and I didn’t need a fantasy world of dark things. I was already living in that world.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

VTN: A professor. Which is what I am. Professor/writer, Jekyll/Hyde.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

VTN: My wife, my son, and a magic lamp with three wishes.


Viet reads from his novel The Sympathizer this Thursday at City Lights – if you’re in San Francisco, do not miss it! For more Viet, go to his official site and follow him on Twitter. Check out our events calendar for more great events this summer at City Lights.

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