Viet Thanh NguyenApr 29, 2021
Grove Press 2021
What do you ask a novelist who has won a Pulitzer, a Guggenheim, and a MacArthur genius grant? Cocktail advice, of course. When I had the honor of chatting with Viet Thanh Nguyen about his two novels The Sympathizer and The Committed, we started by discussing what beverages would go well with his books. While the first book is a spy novel and the second is a noir mafia story, they both use the same hard-drinking narrator to explore issues of race and racism, colonialism and decolonization, and violence and non-violence. Set in Southern California in the 1970s and Paris, France in the 1980s, the novels combine a history of the Vietnamese refugee experience with a critique of whiteness and a generous dose of literary criticism. The books are also full of humor, which is at times ribald and scatological.
Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Professor Nguyen is the author of several books including Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War. About a year ago I got to chat with him about that book here on New Books, so check the New Books archive for that interview. He also edited Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field with Janet Hoskins. He has a collection of short stories called The Refugees and edited The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives. He also co-wrote Chicken of the Sea, but I suspect his co-author Ellison and son did most of the heavy lifting on that one. This children’s book was illustrated by the amazing Thi Bui and her son Hien Bui-Stafford. Grove Press published The Sympathizer in 2015 and The Committed in 2021.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.