May 09, 2016
The 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction has been awarded to Viet Thanh Nguyen for his debut novel, The Sympathizer. Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.
Nguyen said, “I felt queasy and struck by literary lightning,” upon learning he had won the prestigious prize.
The Sympathizer follows a nameless spy who has infiltrated the South Vietnamese army and flees with its remnants to America. His mission is to report on their efforts to continue their lost war. As the aide to a general who refuses to admit defeat, he observes the struggles of the Vietnamese refugees to survive in a melancholic Los Angeles. The narrator is Eurasian, his father a French priest, his mother Vietnamese. He has been a double agent since his teenage years, and in his college years he studied in California to learn American culture. His war is a psychological one, but as he slowly realizes, much of that war is within himself, a man in between races and countries. As he tells us from the beginning: I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds.
The Sympathizer also won the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction. The novel also made it to over thirty book-of-the-year lists, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.
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