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Study Guide for Book Clubs: The Sympathizer: Study Guides for Book Clubs, #22

Study Guide for Book Clubs: The Sympathizer: Study Guides for Book Clubs, #22

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Study Guide for Book Clubs: The Sympathizer: Study Guides for Book Clubs, #22

96 pages
1 heure
Feb 25, 2018


Whether you are a member of a reading group, or simply reading The Sympathizer for pleasure, this clear and concise guide, written by a specialist in literature, will greatly enhance your reading experience.

A comprehensive guide to Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer, this discussion aid includes a wealth of information and resources: useful literary and historical context; an author biography; a plot synopsis; analyses of themes & imagery; character analysis; twenty-two thought-provoking discussion questions; recommended further reading and even a quick quiz. For those in book clubs, this useful companion guide takes the hard work out of preparing for meetings and guarantees productive discussion. For solo readers, it encourages a deeper examination of a multi-layered text.

Feb 25, 2018

À propos de l'auteur

Kathryn Cope graduated in English Literature from Manchester University and obtained her master’s degree in contemporary fiction from the University of York. She is the author of Study Guides for Book Clubs and the HarperCollins Offical Book Club Guide series. She lives in the Staffordshire Moorlands with her husband, son and dog.

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Study Guide for Book Clubs - Kathryn Cope



There are few things more rewarding than getting together with a group of like-minded people and discussing a good book. Book club meetings, at their best, are vibrant, passionate affairs. Each member will bring along a different perspective and ideally there will be heated debate.

A surprising number of book club members, however, report that their meetings have been a disappointment. Even though their group loved the particular book they were discussing, they could think of astonishingly little to say about it. Failing to find interesting discussion angles for a book is the single most common reason for book group discussions to fall flat. Most book groups only meet once a month and a lacklustre meeting is frustrating for everyone.

Study Guides for Book Clubs were born out of a passion for book clubs. Packed with information, they take the hard work out of preparing for a meeting and ensure that your book group discussions never run dry. How you choose to use the guides is entirely up to you. The author biography, historical, and literary context sections provide useful background information which may be interesting to share with your group at the beginning of your meeting. The all-important list of discussion questions, which will probably form the core of your meeting, can be found towards the end of this guide. To support your responses to the discussion questions, you may find it helpful to refer to the ‘Themes & Imagery’ and ‘Character’ sections.

A plot synopsis is provided as an aide-memoire if you need to recap on the finer points of the plot. There is also a quick quiz - a fun way to test your knowledge and bring your discussion to a close. Finally, if this was a book that you particularly enjoyed, the guide concludes with a list of books similar in style or subject matter.

Be warned, this guide contains spoilers. Please do not be tempted to read it before you have read the original novel as plot surprises will be well and truly ruined.

Kathryn Cope, 2016

Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese American with first-hand experience of the Vietnam War’s aftermath. Born in Ban Me Thuot, Vietnam, he was only four years old when the Vietnamese communist army took over the village where his family lived in 1975. As Nguyen’s parents were anti-communist and pro-Catholic, he and his family fled the country in a refugee boat headed for a refugee camp on Guam (a territory in the Pacific Ocean belonging to the United States). From there they were sent on to Fort Indiantown Gap – a Vietnamese refugee camp in Pennsylvania.

While his family were staying at the US refugee camp, Nguyen was sent to live with a white host family as part of a sponsorship scheme for Vietnamese refugees. In 1978 he was reunited with his family when they moved to San Jose, California. Here, his parents opened one of the first Vietnamese grocery stores in the city. Economically their hard work paid off, although Nguyen remembers his family experiencing anti-Vietnamese sentiment from white Americans.

As Nguyen grew up in the USA, he became increasingly aware of his dual identity. Although deeply Americanized he was also conscious that the shadow of the war continued to haunt his parents and the other Vietnamese people he encountered within the exiled community. He also experienced conflicting emotions when he watched the ‘Nam Hollywood blockbusters so popular in the 1980s. Nguyen describes how, on first watching ‘Rambo’, he admired Sylvester Stallone’s macho role until he realised, Wait a minute, I’m also the gook on the screen been killed. He also recalls hearing a cinema audience cheer when Vietnamese characters were shot in ‘Platoon’ and feeling unsure who he should identify with. Watching these films made him realize that the story of the Vietnam War, as portrayed in popular culture, was only told from an American perspective.

A natural academic, Nguyen went on to pursue his interest in both ethnicity and literature at university. He graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in English and Ethnic Studies and stayed on to complete a Ph.D. in English literature. He then moved to Los Angeles for a position at the University of Southern California where he still teaches. An associate Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity, Nguyen is particularly interested in exploring the way Asians and Asian-Americans are represented in American culture. He is also actively involved with promoting Vietnamese arts and culture within the diaspora.


Although Nguyen has written short stories for various publications, The Sympathizer (first published in 2015) is his first novel. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction, the novel was also singled out on more than thirty influential best-book-of-the-year lists. Critics praised The Sympathizer for the fresh (i.e. Vietnamese) perspective it brings to Vietnam War fiction.

Nguyen’s non-fiction titles - Race and resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (2002) and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016) – explore many of the issues touched upon in his novel. In fact Nguyen describes Nothing Ever Dies as the critical bookend to the fictional bookend that is The Sympathizer, as it is a non-fictional exploration of how the Vietnam War has been remembered and culturally represented by different countries and people.

Nguyen is currently working on a sequel to The Sympathizer.


Literary Context

Librarians and book store owners may have a difficult time deciding which genre to slot The Sympathizer into. Depending upon which elements interest you the most, it can be read as a Vietnam War novel, an espionage thriller, a political satire, a coming-of-age tale or a novel about the immigrant experience. The novel’s pace and style also varies tremendously. By turns harrowing and humorous, brutally realistic and surreal, its narrative defiantly refuses to fall in with the reader’s expectations. Far from being randomly chosen, the blend of literary influences Nguyen chooses perfectly reflects his themes and preoccupations.

Spy Fiction

The narrator of The Sympathizer is an undercover spy, trained by the CIA and working with a South Vietnamese General but, at the same time, feeding back information to the communists in North Vietnam. This world of undercover agents and CIA spooks will be familiar to fans of espionage fiction. Nguyen has fun playing upon the idea of a Vietnamese version of James Bond, particularly through his narrator’s sexist attitude towards women. An unapologetic connoisseur of female beauty, the narrator, in true Bond-like fashion, finds it impossible to commit to one woman. His relationship with Ms. Mori (of the horn-rimmed glasses and sensible shoes) is deliberately reminiscent of that of James Bond and Miss Moneypenny, humorously reflected in the fact that he never refers to her by her first name, even after making love.

On a more literary note, a number of critics

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