The Committed

Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Committed
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The Committed

Viet Thanh Nguyen

The long-awaited new novel from one of America’s most highly regarded contemporary writers, The Committed follows the Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris as a refugee.

There he and his blood brother Bon try to escape their pasts and prepare for their futures by turning their hands to capitalism in one of its purest forms: drug dealing. No longer in physical danger, but still inwardly tortured by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, and struggling to assimilate into a dominant culture, the Sympathizer is both charmed and disturbed by Paris.

As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals and politicians who frequent dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese aunt, he finds not just stimulation for his mind but also customers for his merchandise - but the new life he is making has dangers he has not foreseen, from the oppression of the state, to the self-torture of addiction, to the seemingly unresolvable paradox of how he can reunite his two closest friends, men whose worldviews put them in absolute opposition.

Both literary thriller and brilliant novel of ideas, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen’s position in the firmament of American letters.

Review

Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for his novel The Sympathizer and the titular character of that book returns here in The Committed. This time the Sympathizer has surfaced in Paris in the eighties as a refugee, staying with an ‘aunt’ who has completely assimilated into left-wing French bourgeois society. His aunt entertains a series of leftist lovers ranging from a corrupt socialist politician to a Maoist academic, and their predilection for good quality drugs provides an opportunity for the Sympathizer. His new employer, The Boss, is an old acquaintance from Vietnam and runs a crime empire out of the worst Asian restaurant in Paris. The Boss backs his scheme to provide hashish to French intellectuals, but in doing so he steps on the toes of the French Arab gangs. These interactions give The Sympathizer an opportunity to reflect on the shared experiences of the colonised, particularly through the works of French West Indian philosopher Frantz Fanon – and through a beating at the hands of the gang members.

Some of the most interesting bits of the novel are in these ruminations about the relationship between colonised and colonisers. It also ties into The Sympathizer’s own dual nationality of being half French, half Vietnamese. After all, he reflects, the relationship that produced him is the very epitome of colonisation: his father was a French priest who disowned both him and his poor Vietnamese mother, yet part of him wants to be French, to be like his oppressors.

A complex exploration of capitalism, colonisation and identity, this book is often hilarious, always stimulating and often brilliant.


Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.

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