First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
The long-awaited follow up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer, which has sold more than one million copies worldwide, The Committed follows the man of two minds as he arrives in Paris in the early 1980s with his blood brother Bon. The pair try to overcome their pasts and ensure their future by engaging in capitalism in one of its purest forms: drug dealing.
Traumatized by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, Man, and struggling to assimilate into French culture, the Sympathizer finds Paris both seductive and disturbing. As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals whom he meets at dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese “aunt,” he finds stimulation for his mind but also customers for his narcotic merchandise. But the new life he is making has perils he has not foreseen, whether the self-torture of addiction, the authoritarianism of a state locked in a colonial mindset, or the seeming paradox of how to reunite his two closes friends whose worldviews put them in absolute opposition. The Sympathizer will need all his wits, resourcefulness, and moral flexibility if he is to prevail.
Both suspenseful and existential, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen’s position in the firmament of American letters.
Happy Friday everyone! Another work week has come to a close. I hope you had a productive week, or at least you had a great one. I also hope you are all doing well and are keeping safe in the comforts of your homes. The scorching Manila heat is doing its usual damage. Work-wise, I am happy that two of the three entities I am handling now have final audited balance (breathes a sigh of relief). But not all is done yet for I have to prepare the draft financial statements and the income tax computations. The life of an accountant can be tedious but at least, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally breaking through.
Enough of my pep talk, if it can even be called one. The last day of the work week is synonymous to a First Impression Friday update. This month, I have been working through works of Asian literature and my journey has transported me to 1980s Paris (yes, not Asia) through Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed. When he announced that he was publishing a new work this year, I was giddy in anticipation. I loved his debut novel, The Sympathizer; The Committed is the long-awaited sequel to his equally powerful and impressionable first work.
The Committed is the story of the anonymous narrator simply referred to as the Sympathizer because of his communist leaning. From America, he and his best friend, Bon, has moved to Paris. Whilst the Sympathizer stayed with his Vietnamese French “aunt,” Bon opted to move because of the aunt’s pro-communist stance. You see, Bon has strong anti-communist ideals as his wife and son were killed when they were fleeing Vietnam. Both Bon and the Sympathizer, unused to the Parisian flair, were employed by the “Boss”, a gangster or a bandit (either is fine), who made a name for himself in the Parisian underground. Under the Boss’ apprenticeship, they both find themselves slowly immersing in both the Parisian culture and capitalism.
I have covered over a hundred pages already and I think I have gained a solid understanding of how the story is going to flow. The voice of the Sympathizer is, again, a welcome one for it is imbued with wit and insightfulness. I have nearly forgotten what happened in the first novel but various references to the pair’s experiences in America helped regain lost memory. Ironically, the image of the Sympathizer traveling to the Philippines in order to help a film crew correctly portray the Vietnam War (if I am not mistaken) is somehow stuck in my mind for the description of the setting reminded me of a familiar place, Baguio City.
As can be expected, communist and anti-communist sentiments are explored extensively. It is further enriched by its juxtaposition on the sea of capitalism. This is one of the things I am looking forward to, how Nguyen will build up on these dichotomies. Colonialism is also a prevalent subject, with comparisons between French Imperialism and American colonization a recurring theme. I liked the discussion on the “Orient of the Pearl”: “Colonies were a pearl choker adorning the alabaster white neck of the colonizer. And sometimes a Pearl of the Orient could be a Paris of the Orient as well. The Parisians and the French and just about everyone meant that as a compliment, the only kind a colonizer could give to the colonized.”
As the Sympathizer soaks in the French air, once inhaled by his French father who abandoned him and his mother, it is interesting to know how he immerses in the changes. As I was writing this post, a question flickered on my mind: will the Sympathizer, after his experiences in America and France, remain committed to his communist sympathies, hence, the book’s title? Or, will he commit to something new, an unexpected twist? One thing I have noted is how the Sympathizer’s voice has become surer and clearer. I find him, as a character, rawer in The Sympathizer. I guess his experiences have helped mold him. I have two-thirds more to go and I hope that the narrative will live up to the expectations.
That’s it for now. How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!