page contents In ‘The Committed,’ Viet Thanh Nguyen continues his Pulitzer Prize-winning story – The News Headline

In ‘The Committed,’ Viet Thanh Nguyen continues his Pulitzer Prize-winning story

Except for that the creator, Viet Thanh Nguyen, was once too startlingly sensible to forget about. “The Sympathizer” flushed colour again into the ones iconic pictures of the autumn of Saigon and recast the worn classes of the Vietnam Conflict during the eyes of a communist agent hiding in america. An fast vintage, the unconventional aggressively engaged with the country’s mythology and demonstrated Nguyen’s bizarre highbrow dramatic vary. “The Sympathizer” swept during the 12 months’s literary awards, successful a Pulitzer Prize, a Carnegie Medal, the Heart for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Asian/Pacific American Award, an Edgar Award and extra.

Now, Nguyen returns to the scene of that triumph with a good brainier sequel known as “The Dedicated.” “I would possibly not be a secret agent or a sleeper, however I’m maximum certainly a spook,” the unnamed narrator starts. “I’m additionally nonetheless a person of 2 faces and two minds, one among which may in all probability but nonetheless be intact.”

In the event you learn “The Sympathizer,” you’ll instantly acknowledge this ironic and perpetually conflicted voice. In the event you haven’t learn “The Sympathizer,” you’ll be hopelessly misplaced, so don’t even call to mind leaping in right here. The environment and motion of this 2nd e book are other, however “The Dedicated” is so depending on previous relationships and plot main points that those two novels are extra like volumes of the similar proceeding tale.

“The Dedicated” by no means units foot in america. As a substitute, it takes position totally in Paris, regardless that no longer the romantic Town of Mild. That is Paris past the vacationer haunts and picture shoots: alongside darkish avenues of warehouses, golf equipment and eating places managed via combating gangs. Simply as “The Sympathizer” remodeled the hulk of an previous secret agent novel, “The Dedicated” does the similar with a story of noir crime.

The unconventional opens in 1981 when the dangerously sympathetic secret agent arrives in Paris together with his previous buddy Bon. They’ve survived a 12 months of torture in a reeducation camp in Vietnam and at the moment are being rewarded with new lives some of the French. “Our baggage have been full of goals and fantasies,” the narrator says, “trauma and ache, sorrow and loss, and, in fact, ghosts. Since ghosts have been weightless, lets lift a vast collection of them.”

The ones ghosts — which come with his French father, a clergyman — have interaction with the dwelling on this new Parisian association. Even supposing the narrator is not a certified secret agent, his lifestyles isn’t any much less clandestine than ever. Bon, his buddy, remains to be made up our minds to kill communists and has no concept that the narrator is one. However in all probability that gained’t subject of their new line of labor as underlings for a Vietnamese drug lord. Right here, indubitably, they are able to simply faux to be waiters at “the worst Asian eating place in Paris” and brush ideological considerations apart whilst gathering coverage cash and distributing cannabis.

Au contraire. In France, the narrator unearths himself contending with attitudes a ways murkier than the rest he skilled within the proudly fantastical United States. Right here, his hosts are seductive buyers and brutal colonizers, as happy with their aesthetic superiority as they’re with their racial dominance. That creates a profoundly unsettling setting for immigrants. “Loving a grasp who kicks you isn’t an issue if this is all one feels,” the narrator explains, “however loving and hating will have to be stored a filthy little secret, for loving the grasp one hates inevitably induces confusion and self-hatred.” And that painful conundrum is invested of their maximum prized ownership, the French language, which right away pronounces the refugee as the opposite, the intruder, the barbarian. “There was once no use for the French to sentence us,” the narrator says. “As long as we spoke of their language, we condemned ourselves.”

Underneath the facade of Parisian class, Nguyen describes the carnage of ethnic violence performed via Vietnamese and Algerian immigrants competing for territory within the narcotic industry. With alarming regularity, drug offers cross dangerous and crooks search vengeance within the language all of them talk fluently: ache. As in “The Sympathizer,” “The Dedicated” is devoted to the proposition that with endurance and the fitting gear an individual can also be liquefied with beautiful care.

However all that agony — and there’s a large number of it — is subsumed inside the narrator’s introspection. “My lifestyles as a modern and a secret agent were designed to reply to one query,” he tells us, “WHAT IS TO BE DONE?” As a person riddled with sympathy, riven with a nagging appreciation for each side, he’s doomed to bewilderment, to irony, to a maddening sense of his personal irreconcilable doubleness. “All my lifestyles I handiest ever aspired to at least one factor — to be human,” he cries. However to what reason must he be dedicated? Or must he, as an alternative, be dedicated to an asylum? In all probability handiest the nothingness of Sartre can be offering him reduction.

“The French and the Vietnamese shared a love for despair and philosophy,” the narrator says, “that the manically constructive American citizens may just by no means perceive.” The similar hurdle will problem American readers of “The Dedicated,” which is closely fortified with philosophical rumination. On this novel, even the whorehouse bouncer reads Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire. If the person’s dimension doesn’t scare you clear of the pleasures inside, his bookshelf may.

Viet Thanh Nguyen will discuss “The Dedicated” with Tommy Orange all the way through a streaming presentation from Politics & Prose Bookstall on March 11, 2021, at eight p.m. ET.

The Dedicated

Grove/Atlantic. 345 pp. $27

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