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Summary and Analysis of The Sympathizer: Based on the Book by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Summary and Analysis of The Sympathizer: Based on the Book by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Summary and Analysis of The Sympathizer: Based on the Book by Viet Thanh Nguyen

69 pages
52 minutes
Mar 21, 2017


So much to read, so little time? This brief overview of The Sympathizer tells you what you need to know—before or after you read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book.

Crafted and edited with care, Worth Books set the standard for quality and give you the tools you need to be a well-informed reader.
This short summary and analysis of The Sympathizer includes:
  • Historical context
  • Chapter-by-chapter overviews
  • Profiles of the main characters
  • Themes and symbols
  • Important quotes
  • Fascinating trivia
  • Glossary of terms
  • Supporting material to enhance your understanding of the original work
About The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book depicts the secret life of an unnamed Vietnamese man, grappling with various identities, whose story begins with the evacuation of Saigon, continues with his life living in America after the war, and ends with a shocking twist. Written in the form of a confession, this darkly humorous tale is a brilliant, long-overdue addition to the canon of immigrant literature.
Part spy novel, part political thriller, and part satire, The Sympathizer offers smart, scathing, and timely commentary on the state of race, class, war, politics, and the media.
The summary and analysis in this ebook are intended to complement your reading experience and bring you closer to a great work of fiction.
Mar 21, 2017

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Summary and Analysis of The Sympathizer - Worth Books





Cast of Characters


Character Analysis

Themes and Symbols

Author’s Style

Direct Quotes and Analysis


What’s That Word?

Critical Response

About Viet Thanh Nguyen

For Your Information




Since the fall of Saigon in April 1975, the Vietnam War has inspired a vast library of American fiction and nonfiction. Most of these works depict the war as a chiefly American drama, one in which the Vietnamese themselves are nameless, voiceless features of the lush, tropical setting. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel The Sympathizer offers a different perspective: Narrated by a Vietnamese communist working as a spy in America during and after the war, the novel invites readers to reconsider the war as they know it from American literature and film.

The Sympathizer was met with near-universal praise following its publication in 2015. It was the recipient of multiple awards—including the Pulitzer Prize—and Nguyen, a professor at USC, was hailed as a brilliant new voice in fiction.

Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam but raised in the United States after his parents fled in 1975, sought to fill the void in the canon by giving voice to the underrepresented and misrepresented Vietnamese soldiers and refugees whose lives were deeply affected by the war and its aftermath. Part spy novel, part satire, and part political thriller, The Sympathizer explores the space between Orient and Occident, communist and capitalist, colonizer and colonized, in one man’s identity.


The narrator, who remains unnamed, writes his confession from a prison cell. He addresses the confession to his enigmatic imprisoner, the Commandant.

The narrator begins his tale in Saigon toward the end of the Vietnam War. He works as an aid for the General, a head of the South Vietnamese secret police, but he is secretly a spy for the communists. In many ways, the narrator is split in two: he is a double agent; his two best friends and blood brothers are Bon, a loyal South Vietnamese, and Man, a communist; and he is of mixed descent, the child of a French father and a Vietnamese mother. As Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese, the narrator flees to America with Bon, the General, and the General’s family and staff; as a refugee, he will continue his espionage work and send reports back to Man in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese refugees struggle to make their way in America during the first year after the war. The narrator lives in Los Angeles with Bon, and works in the Department of Oriental Studies at Occidental College, his alma mater. He begins a sexual relationship with a Japanese American named Sofia Mori.

The General orders the narrator and Bon to kill a man referred to only as the crapulent major after the narrator falsely accuses him of espionage. The narrator obeys, fearful of refusing the command and believed a spy, is guilt-ridden. Meanwhile, the General enlists the help of a right-wing political ally, an American congressman, to take back Vietnam from the communists.

The Congressman, who has connections in Hollywood, recruits the narrator to consult on a new Vietnam War movie, The Hamlet, written by the famous Auteur. The movie portrays Vietnamese people in crude stereotypes; the narrator agrees to fly to the Philippines for the filming. He hopes to positively change the representation of Vietnamese people and culture, but he fails—the movie is a piece of American propaganda.

Upon his return to America, the narrator learns that the General plans to send a group of

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