The Sympathizer

Themes and thoughts

  • What kind of communist are you?
  • Immigrant success story? Is it success if you’re unhappy? Immigrants vs refugees
  • “What is better than independence and freedom? Nothing.” Double entendre. No thing or nothingness
  • Secret ingredient in Kung Fu Panda’s noodles? Nothing.
  • Racism embedded in American culture, yet it’s also a land of opportunity
  • Love hate connection to America. The land of immigrants, yet no acknowledgement of America’s role in displacing Vietnamese
  • Origin of stereotypes: to have power over others


The narrative is a North Vietnamese spy embedded in the south’s military working for a general in the secret police.

Half French – father was a French priest. He’s a bastard. He spent time in LA, earned his degree in the U.S.

He communicates to an “aunt” in Paris and transmits information.

Saigon falls, he, his friends, and the general are relocated to LA. Takes a job as a cultural consultant to an “Apocolypse Now” movie – there’s a realization of how America and Hollywood is portraying the war. Hollywood plays a role in preparing Americans to … the tradgey only happens to Americans, not the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese were just props to enable the director’s vision.

He kills a member of his military group who is suspected of being a mole, and the major’s ghost comes back to haunt him.

For a mole working for the communists, he seems ambivalent about communism. 

The book is written from the point of the Sympathizer conveying his confession. There’s no aspect where the narrator is conveying his story to America.

Reconstruction the south’s army via Thailand. While in LA, they’re sending money to politicians and military troops in Thailand. Narrator’s friend, Bon, leaves for Thailand to fight, and the narrator follows to protect him. Bon and the narrator survive and attack. Narrator is captured by the ruling Vietnamese (communists) and is sent to a re-education camp. Because he’s spent so much time in the U.S., they suspect he enjoys capitalism and isn’t 100 percent into communism.

Narrator is tortured in the camp, the torture is his blood brother, Man. Man has been disillusioned with communism. Ho Chi Min-ism: “Nothing is higher than the common good.” What is better than independence and freedom? Nothing. Double entendre. He breaks. He’s sent off on a refugee program, and becomes a boat person.

Connection to Cascadia

This one was a bit of a stretch to connect to our Cascadia theme.

  • Seattle and Portland have large Vietnamese communities
  • Gov. Dan Evans was the first governor in the U.S. to open the doors to Vietnamese resettlement, Seattle’s population was dwindling
  • What’s the Pho per capita in Seattle? High. There is a Little Saigon in Seattle
  • Sarah and John are going to Vietnam next month
  • Connected to Night Dogs, which was about an American Vietnam vet who becomes a cop in Portland, OR