‘The Sympathizer’ author Viet Thahn Nguyen slams critics

‘The Sympathizer’ author Viet Thahn Nguyen slams critics‘The Sympathizer’ author Viet Thahn Nguyen slams critics
via CBS Mornings
Bryan Ke
April 23, 2024
Viet Thanh Nguyen, the author of 2015 novel “The Sympathizer,” has responded to critics who targeted certain aspects of his work, including realism and race, as well as personal attacks.
Key points:
  • Nguyen, 53, took to his Instagram on Thursday to slam his critics and respond to some of their comments. In his post description, Nguyen noted that he believes that “Art should speak for itself,” adding, “And yet – some of the criticisms of my work and myself are not about the art. The criticisms are entrenched in attitudes that I disagree with, or think can be modulated.”
  • Nguyen’s response came as the TV show adaptation of his novel made its premiere on HBO on April 14. The mini-series, which stars Robert Downey Jr. in multiple roles and Sandra Oh, was produced by A24 and co-created by Don McKellar and Park Chan-wook.
  • “The Sympathizer” follows the story of a spy embedded in the South Vietnamese army who flees to the United States. There, he continues his mission and reports back to the Viet Cong during the later part of the Vietnam War. Nguyen’s novel received a Pulitzer Prize in 2015.
The details:
  • In his post, Nguyen addressed the criticism about the realism of his story, notably “how no Vietnamese people or spy can be like ‘The Sympathizer.’” In response, Nguyen explained that while his “story is based on many real historical incidents and characters,” he never intended to “write a realistic novel.”
  • Nguyen also addressed the issue of the protagonist being of mixed-race descent, a half-French and half-Vietnamese spy only known as “The Captain,” played by Hoa Xuande. Writing that it was a deliberate decision, Nguyen explained, “If the novel were a success, many Vietnamese people would claim that success and be proud of it. If so, I wanted them to think about why they would claim a mixed race person as Vietnamese, given that the Vietnamese treatment of mixed race people has been very racist.”
  • Critics also attacked Nguyen personally, particularly questioning his decision to choose a different structure for his name, which they deemed “wrong” and “inauthentic.” He wrote in part, “This allegation blames me and everyone like me for a situation that is not our fault.”
  • “Viet Thahn Nguyen is a name that expresses the authenticity of inauthenticity,” he added. “I am perfectly happy using Nguyễn Thanh Việt when I am in Vietnam, or when I am speaking to Vietnamese people in the diaspora, but I am under no illusions that somehow I would become more authentically Vietnamese as a result, either to myself or to Vietnamese people who are prone to judgment.”
  • Lastly, Nguyen addressed criticisms regarding his age, being deemed “too young to know about the war” and his right to tell the story of the Vietnam War. Admitting that it is true, as he was only around 4 years old when the war occurred (having been born on March 13, 1971), he noted that he was merely an eyewitness to the eyewitnesses, who are his parents. He added, “The older generation who actually lived through the war and experienced its worst effects are rightfully attached to their experiences and they rightly fear that their stories won’t be told, or even if told, it won’t be heard.”
 
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