Friday, September 25, 2015

Noir with a twist, and war with a side of humor: not-to-miss new fiction from two Vietnamese American authors

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

"...for who but a man with two minds could understand a man with no face?"

A top contender for my "Best of 2015" award, which if you are keeping track you know that list also includes The Tusk That Did The Damage and A Little Life, among othersThe Sympathizer is dark humor at its finest, and an expert portrayal of the duality in the life of a man "with two minds": that of Vietnamese, and American, that of a secret agent of the Viet Cong and officer in the South Vietnamese Army.

The novel is written as a jail cell confession by a double-agent returned to Vietnam after years in the United states, during which time he worked on a film about the Vietnam War by "The Auteur", a character that seems to be based on Oliver Stone. From Mr. Nguyen's interview on NPR: "I remember sitting and watching Platoon in a movie theater, and when the Vietnamese were shot, people would cheer. I was like, "Wait, that's weird, who am I supposed to identify with at this moment?" Nguyen adroitly weaves wry humor through his grim account of a war told from different sides.

Dragonfish by Vu Tran

Dragonfish is a gritty noir thriller complete with a chain-smoking, flawed, corruptible detective chasing the ghost of the woman who left him through the Vietnamese underworld in Las Vegas.

Suzy, haunted by memories of her time spent in a refugee camp in Malaysia after the fall of Saigon, disappears from her life and tumultuous marriage to Robert, a hard drinking, hard-boiled detective.

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