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To: Cush who wrote (8646)11/15/2019 9:15:53 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 9145
 
I read The Sympathizer earlier this year. Not the easiest read, but worth the effort, even if the ending was a bit befuddled. Definitely a different perspective on the Vietnam War. The Ugly American from a Vietnamese point of view.

Very carefully crafted; every word, every sentence. Caputo's review suggests that it is "marred by overwriting."

‘The Sympathizer,’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

By Philip Caputo
New York Times
April 2, 2015



Credit...Yuko Shimizu
____________

The more powerful a country is, the more disposed its people will be to see it as the lead actor in the sometimes farcical, often tragic pageant of history. So it is that we, citizens of a superpower, have viewed the Vietnam War as a solely American drama in which the febrile land of tigers and elephants was mere backdrop and the Vietnamese mere extras.

That outlook is reflected in the literature — and Vietnam was a very literary war, producing an immense library of fiction and nonfiction. Among all those volumes, you’ll find only a handful (Robert Olen Butler’s “A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain” comes to mind) with Vietnamese characters speaking in their own voices.

Hollywood has been still more Americentric. In films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon,” the Vietnamese (often other Asians portraying Vietnamese) are never more than walk-ons whose principal roles seem to be to die or wail in the ashes of incinerated villages.

Which brings me to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s remarkable debut novel, “The Sympathizer.” ­Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.

But this tragicomic novel reaches beyond its historical context to illuminate more universal themes: the eternal misconceptions and misunderstandings between East and West, and the moral dilemma faced by people forced to choose not between right and wrong, but right and right. The nameless protagonist-­narrator, a memorable character despite his anonymity, is an Americanized Vietnamese with a divided heart and mind. ­Nguyen’s skill in portraying this sort of ambivalent personality compares favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene and le?Carré.

Duality is literally in the protagonist’s blood, for he is a half-caste, the illegitimate son of a teenage Vietnamese mother (whom he loves) and a French Catholic priest (whom he hates). Widening the split in his nature, he was educated in the United States, where he learned to speak English without an accent and developed another love-hate relationship, this one with the country that he feels has coined too many “super” terms (supermarkets, ­superhighways, the Super Bowl, and so on) “from the federal bank of its ­narcissism.”

The narrator’s acrobatic ability to balance between two worlds is his strength and weakness, as he makes clear in his opening lines:

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds, .?.?. able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent,” he continues, but “I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you — that is a hazard.”

And a hazard it proves to be.

The protagonist’s narrative, which takes the form of a confession written to a mystery man known as “the commandant,” begins in the final days of the war, as Communist forces close in on Saigon. The narrator is aide-de-camp to “the general” (one of several characters who, like the narrator, is never identified by name), the chief of South Vietnam’s National Police and, with it, of Special Branch, the secret police.

But the narrator is also a mole, a Communist undercover agent assigned to keep tabs on the general and Special Branch’s activities. His closest friend is Bon, an assassin with the C.I.A.’s Phoenix program, “a genuine patriot” who volunteered to fight after Communists murdered his father for the crime of being a village chief. The narrator’s North Vietnamese handler, Man, is also an old chum. Indeed, the narrator, Bon and Man were high school classmates, who in their youth melodramatically swore allegiance to one another by becoming blood brothers. This complex relationship, with the narrator in the tenuous middle, riven by conflicting loyalties, is a recipe for tragic betrayals, and those come, one after the other.



Viet Thanh NguyenCredit...BeBe Jacobs
_____

Working through a C.I.A. spook named Claude, the narrator dispenses liberal bribes to engineer an air evacuation to the United States for the general, the general’s wife and their huge extended family. Bon is also to be lifted out with his wife and child. The narrator wants to stay and take his place in a reunified Vietnam, but Man, convinced that the general and his cohort will plot a counterrevolution from abroad, gives him a new mission that is an extension of his old one: “Your general isn’t the only one planning to keep on fighting,” he explains. “The war’s been going on too long for them to simply stop. We need someone to keep an eye on them.”

Nguyen presents a gripping picture of the fall of Saigon, its confusion, chaos and terror, as the narrator flees with the others under a storm of shellfire from his Viet Cong and North Vietnamese comrades. Bon’s wife and child are killed before their plane takes off, giving him two more deaths to avenge.

This rich narrative stew is assembled in the novel’s first 50 pages, then set on a low simmer. From that brief, intense beginning we proceed to a picaresque account of the narrator’s experiences as a ­refugee-cum-spy in Los Angeles. He lands a clerical job with his former professor, has an affair with an older ­Japanese-American woman and sends messages to Man (written in invisible ink) via an intermediary in Paris. Here the novel becomes both thriller and social satire. If you like your humor written in charcoal, this is the funniest part of the book, though it’s occasionally spoiled by zingers that belong on “The Daily Show” more than they do in a serious novel.

The narrator’s espionage activities lead him to make a foray into the movie business. He is hired by a director, “the auteur” (who bears a resemblance to Francis Ford Coppola), to round up Vietnamese in a Philippine refugee camp to work as extras in his film (which bears a resemblance to “Apocalypse Now”). Nguyen adroitly handles the shifting tones of these episodes, now hilarious, now sad, as the narrator tries to do what Nguyen has done: de-Americanize the portrayal of the war. But, unlike Nguyen, he fails.

Thereafter, the book’s mood darkens. The narrator falls into a web of deceit and treachery spun by his dual role and the schisms in his soul. Man’s suspicions prove accurate: The general and some other die-hards, guilt-ridden for not fighting to the death, bored with their mediocre lives in the States (the general has become owner of a liquor store), plot a counter­revolutionary invasion with the help of a right-wing congressman.

The narrator assists in the planning, while sending reports to Man. However, to avoid having his cover blown, he is compelled to take part in two assassinations. One victim is an ex-Special Branch officer, “the crapulent major,” the other is a Vietnamese journalist at a California newspaper. The descriptions of the murders are tense, psychologically complex, riveting. The narrator’s conscience becomes as torn as the rest of him. “Remorse over the crapulent major’s death was ringing me up a few times a day, tenacious as a debt collector,” he thinks.

(A parenthetical quibble. Good as it is, “The Sympathizer” is sometimes marred by overwriting. Lines like this — “The waiters arrived at that moment with the solemnity of Egyptian servants ready to be buried alive with their pharaoh, platters with the main courses propped on their shoulders” — appear a bit too often.)

The general eventually assembles a ragtag army of former South Vietnamese soldiers, armed and funded by the Americans. Man, kept abreast of the scheme, orders the narrator to remain in the States even as this army heads back to Asia, but he is once again rent by divided loyalties. He feels he must go to save Bon, his blood brother, from dying in what he’s sure will be a suicide mission. He finds himself caught in his familiar dilemma, “with no idea how I would manage to betray Bon and save him at the same time.”

The blood of friendship is thicker than the water of ideology. The narrator joins the general’s army. What happens to it is predictable; what happens to the narrator and Bon is anything but. I don’t want to give anything away, except to say that in its final chapters, “The Sympathizer” becomes an absurdist tour de force that might have been written by a Kafka or Genet.

As that narrative unfolds, the protagonist makes several startling discoveries, among which is the identity of the commandant’s own boss, the commissar. Under interrogation, the narrator goes temporarily insane; but in his madness he achieves a new mental clarity. He sees that the revolution for which he’s sacrificed so much has betrayed him and everyone who fought for it — as revolutions are prone to do.

Even the people who call the shots must admit that the fruits of victory are rotten, and the narrator in turn must recognize “this joke, about how a revolution fought for independence and freedom could make those things worth less than ­nothing.”

But that revelation produces an insight that saves him from complete despair: “Despite it all — yes, despite everything, in the face of nothing,” he writes at the end of the “confession” that is this book, “we still consider ourselves revolutionary. We remain that most hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of a revolution, although we will not dispute being called a dreamer doped by an illusion. .?.?. We cannot be alone! Thousands more must be staring into darkness like us, gripped by scandalous thoughts, extravagant hopes and forbidden plots. We lie in wait for the right moment and the just cause, which, at this moment, is simply wanting to live.”

nytimes.com

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From: JohnM11/20/2019 10:01:59 AM
   of 9145
 
Just finished reading Michael Connelly's most recent. I confess to some disappointment. I've liked much of his previous work. It's not been at the top of my list (rearrange my daily life to read) but definitely (most of the books) on my second ranked readings (enjoy and look forward to reading times during the day).

I'm afraid this one was not quite at the level of my second rank. I did read it all, which speaks well. But Connelly's tendency to keep several cases alive at the same time made this one a more difficult read than past books. I repeatedly lost track of figures, had to go back and reread sections to place them (should have read it as an ebook so it would have been more easily searchable).

As usual, he pulls it all together at the end but it's a bit manufactured.

Connelly's writing remains superb--blunt, colorful, etc. And readable. Just the plotting suffers.

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To: JohnM who wrote (9087)11/20/2019 10:34:03 AM
From: LindyBill
   of 9145
 
Connelly writes at such a great level that even a drop off is still above the rest.

I love British History and have got hooked on a Amazon Writer, Griff Hosker. He does 8th to 12th century England, using a young man who becomes a great warrior as his plot line. His books are in serial fashion and all sell for $4.95. He is quite popular and has well over a 100 of them there. A few of them are in the free section if you pay the ten bucks a month for rental books there.The "Anarchy Series" is excellent, as is "Border Knight" and all the rest in that time period. I don't care for his recent history ones.

What holds my interest is that he really explores that period of History in Britain. Plus. how people lived then is well researched.

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To: LindyBill who wrote (9088)11/20/2019 11:12:58 AM
From: JohnM
   of 9145
 
Thanks for the Hosket recommendation. Will look it up. My serious reading has been biographies--the Roberts' book on Churchill, a dip into Roberts' Napoleon book, the Saul Bellow bios; and Atkinson's book on the American Revolution. Not so serious a spate of Brit mysteries--Charles Todd, Harvey, and so on.

Have variable recommendations on all this.

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To: LindyBill who wrote (9088)11/24/2019 6:15:14 PM
From: LindyBill
2 Recommendations   of 9145
 
Re: Hosker

I am reading his "Norman Genesis" series right now and had not realized that the Normans were the descendants of Vikings who settled Normandy. I had thought they were Franks. Checked Wiki and found out he was right.

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To: LindyBill who wrote (9090)11/25/2019 3:13:59 PM
From: Neeka
   of 9145
 
My Norman ancestors joined an army of Norman, Breton, Flemish, and French soldiers who followed William the Conqueror to England and ended up serving the ruling class in England as Sheriffs and tax collectors for the various Kings. They held the Earldom of Arundel during the period 1267 - 1580 and are still close to the Royals, the head of the family serving today as the 18th Duke of Norfolk

My line drew the short straw and my earliest ancestor struck out for America landing at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634,

Read the introduction to this book at AZ and you'll see that the Normans moved extensively throughout Europe and brought with them a remarkable willingness to incorporate the good things they found in the various countries they conquered and settled with the culture they left behind.

Among other things:

"They had the instinctive ability to recognize which local traditions were superior to their own and to combine the various cultural and legal elements into a cohesive whole."

amazon.com

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From: LindyBill11/26/2019 1:59:40 PM
   of 9145
 
Coming Out In May From Michael Connelly

FAIR WARNING

The hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back in the next thriller from Michael Connelly. Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar—until now.

Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he's ever encountered.

McEvoy investigates—against the warnings of the police and his own editor—and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. But his inquiry hits a snag when he himself becomes a suspect.

As he races to clear his name, McEvoy's findings point to a serial killer working under the radar of law enforcement for years, and using personal data shared by the victims themselves to select and hunt his targets.

Fair Warning reveals a predator operating from the darkest corners of human nature—and one man courageous and determined enough to stand in his way.

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From: Glenn Petersen11/30/2019 9:40:45 AM
3 Recommendations   of 9145
 
Sports: The Real Holiday Tradition

November 27, 2019

Benjamin Baruch Woody

As we gracefully ease into the holiday season it is incumbent upon all of us to count our blessings and truly realize what this time of the year is all about. Sports. Yes, that’s right, sports. Many of you may be terribly excited to sit at the Thanksgiving table and hear Aunt Grunhilda drone on about her time as a young, competitive clogger on the Close Cousin and Hayseed Circuit (sponsored by Martha White Flour), but I am not. When Uncle Dipwalla starts his hysterical comedy routine about the Donner Party, I take that as my cue to slip away and park myself in front of the TV to watch some football. Now this is a blog about literature, art, etc, and not about TV (although some movies will be mentioned), so I won’t bore you with the details of this week’s upcoming games. I am, however very excited to share some of my favorite books and movies about sports.

I firmly believe that the greatest sportswriter of all-time is David Halberstam. Mr. Halberstam is well-known (deservedly so) for his account of the Vietnam War The Best and the Brightest and his stunning retelling of the struggle between the US and Japan for control of the automobile industry The Reckoning. He is also known for what many critics and “experts” say is the greatest sports book of all time The Breaks of the Game. This book is a detailed account of the NBA 1979-1980 season of the Portland Trailblazers and, in particular, their fascinating star Bill Walton. Like most great works of literature, this book is about much more than what is on the surface. It is a wonderfully written account of race relations in the 70’s, what became of the late sixties’ counter-culture in the 70’s, a philosophical rumination on the subsummation of highly skilled individuals for the greater of the whole and the conflicts that arise when someone (a coach) tries to find the right alchemy, and so, so much more. I cannot recommend it enough. However, I actually think one of Halberstam’s least known books is a tiny bit better. The Amateurs is a short book about a little-known or cared about topic, the world of rowing. In this book Halberstam follows 4 completely different men as they strive to represent the US in the 1984 Olympics. The star of the book, Tiff Wood, is one of my favorite characters of any book I have ever read. I have absolutely no interest in rowing, yet I have read this book probably fifteen times. Halberstam uses the 1984 Single Scull trials to examine obsession, sacrifice, pain, iconoclasm, stubbornness, and single-mindedness. He is a master. All of David Halberstam’s books are good.

Later in this blog I will give some lists of favorite sports books and movies, but for now I want to concentrate on a few more of my absolute favorites. One of the best biographies I have ever read is When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss. This is the biography of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Not only is Lombardi a fascinating character, but Maraniss writes wonderfully about the lives of Italian immigrants, the ideas and methods of leadership, the contradiction between private family life and public life, and much more. Just an outstanding book.

Laura Hillenbrand is a genius. I have written about her before, but I do not care. She needs to be celebrated. Seabiscuit is not your traditional sports book, but it is about horse racing and how a particular horse captured the nation’s imagination. It is a mesmerizing account of a certain time in America. Wonderful. My only beef with Mrs. Hillenbrand is that she has only written two books. I know she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I wish her the best. The world is a better place with more Hillenbrand books.

Michael Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He can even make high finance interesting. His book Moneyball, which inspired the very good movie, is an interesting look at how analytics and the theories of the great Baseball Wizard, Bill James, were put to use in Major League Baseball. Lewis’ book about football, The Blind Side, is also very good.

As a certified sports fanatic, one would think I have many sports fiction books that I love. I do not. I think that many writers struggle to write about sports in fiction. I don’t know why, other than there are so many true sports stories that are amazing and why not write about one of those? I guess the last sentence could be true about any genre of literature. I do have 2 favorite sports fiction books. The first is W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. A perfect little gem of a book, it is the book that the wonderful movie Field of Dreams is drawn from. This book is so full of wonder, magic, laughter, and tears that I reread it every year, and every year it breaks my heart all over again.

The next book may be considered an “outdoor” book and it is about many things. I am including it here because I love it and it is about fishing, which could be considered a sport. A River Runs Through It is another book, and movie, that can break your heart. Also very short, it may be the perfect American Novel. Not one word is out of place or superfluous. Norman Maclean taught Literature at the University of Chicago for 40 years. He wrote one novel in his life. I would like to think he spent 40 years thinking about this novel and making it perfect. I strongly believe that A River Runs Through It has the greatest closing lines in the history of American Literature:

It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.

Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.

Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.
_______________________

Authors of whom I recommend all of their books:

John Feinstein

Richard Ben Cramer

George Plimpton

Thomas Boswell

Buzz Bissinger

Howard Bryant

Baseball Authors:

Roger Angell

Roger Kahn

George Will

Basketball Authors:

Rick Telander

Pete Axthelm

A special obsession of mine are Mountaineering books. Here are the key writers:

Jon Krakauer

David Roberts

Clint Willis

and many more. Please email me at bwoody@fontanalib.org if you want more authors.

fontanalib.wordpress.com

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From: LindyBill12/3/2019 6:13:12 PM
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From: LindyBill12/3/2019 7:28:19 PM
1 Recommendation   of 9145
 
I am on the second chapter of Lee Smith's book, "The Plot against the President." Very good. He is an excellent writer.

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