Spoiler-free book review of The Sympathizer

Title: The Sympathizer
Author: Viet Thanh Nguyen
Genre: Literary, political, drama, satire

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Thoughts from a second generation Vietnamese-American:

Viet Thanh Nguyen being the first Vietnamese person to win the Pulitzer Prize caused quite a stir in my local community. I could not pass up giving this book a read. O’Brien comes to mind when most people think of Vietnam War literature, and harrowing stories of American veterans abound, yet I find it so refreshing to finally have a Vietnamese voice present to the English-speaking audience. Refugees do tell their stories, but usually not in English to be heard by the rest of the world. In this regard I think The Sympathizer’s most strongest element is Nguyen’s use of language. The novel is sprinkled with bright glimmers of insight on Asian-American politics and sociology. Through his duplicitous, well-educated, unnamed biracial narrator, Nguyen spares no side with his biting satire. American society, the southern Vietnamese resistance, and even his own side the northern Communists are all probed and critiqued by this spy, whose unique position as an outsider lends him the freedom to do so. His criticism is sharpest when he gets involved in the American film industry as a cultural consultant, earnestly attempting but failing to deliver proper Vietnamese representation in media as his opinions and efforts are undermined and largely ignored by the American filmmaker. This issue is very prevalent today, which is likely why it resonates the most with me as both a consumer and a Vietnamese person. The novel is framed as a confession the spy is writing to his communist superiors, and this writing style took some getting used to. The lack of quotation marks made it hard to distinguish between dialogue and internal monologue, which the narrator often digresses into in compelling but long paragraphs. The pacing might have suffered somewhat from this and made the novel seem longer than it should be, but it’s not enough of a detriment to make me stop reading. The writing style Nguyen chose is appropriate, given the context and narrator’s situation, even if I as the reader had to plod through some of it. The narrator is not without his flaws; throughout the novel there are instances of the male gaze that I as a woman find unlikable, but I think that contributes to the complexity of the character. Like with real people, there would be things you like and don’t like about a person. What I did like about the narrator is, like I’ve said before, his insight into Vietnamese and American culture, his position as someone with mixed heritage, and an enduring love for his mother, blood brothers, and country: emotional anchors he latches onto as he is constantly deceiving people who trust him and shifting political allegiances. Born into a family of immigrants and raised by Vietnam War refugees, I did not expect to be enthralled with the perspective of a communist spy, yet Nguyen surprised me. From the start Nguyen challenged himself by writing from a point of view most would not expect to adopt. The author, a refugee himself, chose to write from the eyes of “the enemy,” which I’d imagine is not an easy thing to do. I didn’t expect to find a communist spy relatable and even likable at times. I find myself sympathizing with the sympathizer.

5/5

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Release of Arcana – Tarot anthology

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“Included in this anthology are twenty-two works of furry fiction by authors within the fandom, including Kyell Gold, Mary E. Lowd, Chris Williams, and many others. Come with us and divine the meaning of all things from within Arcana.”

I have a story in here and I wrote based on the Judgment card. Please buy from this page on Thurston Howl Publications instead of Amazon to benefit the publisher!

Spoiler-free book review of Jade City

Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Genre: Asian urban fantasy

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In this Asian-flavored urban fantasy, in the island of Kekon, jade is much more than a stone you might see on someone’s Buddhist pendant. In Jade City, it can be a weapon and a reckoning force requiring proper training. It’s brimming with life and energy, highly valued and desired, empowering and sometimes corrupting those who are privileged (or strong enough) to wield it. Fonda Lee spins out a gripping start to what promises to be an epic saga. Tension sparks and stretches taut throughout the narrative, not just between rival jade-wielding clans grappling for supremacy over the city Janloon, but among a family struggling to stay strong and work together before and after a dreaded open war.

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On Death and Coping

It has been a week since my friend and honors college roommate Melissa passed away. She loved books and wanted to be a librarian; it was on her way to visit the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station that she got killed in a car accident. When I woke up to the news, it hit me like a brick wall. Since then I’d been constantly thinking of mortality, how time flies and how our days are numbered. It’s easy to take for granted, especially when things aren’t going well, but we have to do our best to appreciate every day we’re given on Earth. We never know when our time will come, or when we will lose people we care about.

I won’t forget the many things Melissa and I have done together, all those times we shared our thoughts and big dreams, how we studied abroad in Oxford together, and how she had been the 1st beta reader to critique the 1st sci-fi short story I’d ever written, which went on to get Silver Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future. She will be missed, and I’ll keep her in my thoughts and prayers always.

Short Story Acceptance #10

Within a surprisingly quick 3-day turnaround, I found out that “In The Name of Science” was accepted for the Infurno: Nine Circles of Hell anthology edited by Thurston Howl. Dante’s Inferno is one of my favorite classical works, so I thought the anthology’s theme was absolutely amazing and just knew that I really wanted a piece in this. I wrote a historical fiction short story about Japan’s Unit 731: a biological warfare program also infamously known as the Asian Holocaust, for performing grisly and utterly inhumane experiments on entire ethnic groups. It’s told from the point of view of a young surgeon recruited to perform operations on prisoners of war. I’m so happy to be sharing this story sometime in December!

Short Story Rejection #25

24-day personal rejection from Escape Pod for “Diver:”

“Dear Allison,

Thank you for sending “Diver” to Escape Pod. We enjoyed this story, but unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us. We wish you the best in finding this a good home and look forward to your next submission.

This story was well-written, and full of delightfully unique ideas, but the swimming/Diving analogy felt too direct and literal for our tastes. We loved it as a metaphor, but the analogy stopped working for us when both tasks used the same skills and even the same swimsuits.”