• Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date October 03, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6050-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Publication Date October 03, 2023
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6051-5
  • US List Price $28.00


With insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism, in A Man of Two Faces Viet Thanh Nguyen rewinds the film of his own life. He expands the genre of personal memoir by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son.

At the age of four, Nguyen and his family are forced to flee his hometown of Ban Mê Thuột and come to the USA as refugees. After being removed from his brother and parents and homed with a family on his own, Nguyen is later allowed to resettle into his own family in suburban San José. But there is violence hidden behind the sunny façade of what he calls AMERICA™. One Christmas Eve, when Nguyen is nine, while watching cartoons at home, he learns that his parents have been shot while working at their grocery store, the SàiGòn Mới, a place where he sometimes helps price tins of fruit with a sticker gun. Years later, as a teenager, the blood-stirring drama of the films of the Vietnam War such as Apocalypse Now throw Nguyen into an existential crisis: how can he be both American and Vietnamese, both the killer and the person being killed? When he learns about an adopted sister who has stayed back in Vietnam, and ultimately visits her, he grows to understand just how much his parents have left behind. And as his parents age, he worries increasingly about their comfort and care, and realizes that some of their older wounds are reopening,

Profound in its emotions and brilliant in its thinking about cultural power, A Man of Two Faces explores the necessity of both forgetting and of memory, the promises America so readily makes and breaks, and the exceptional life story of one of the most original and important writers working today.

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Praise for A Man of Two Faces:

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Oprah Daily, Houston Chronicle, Electric Literature, and Amazon

Named a Best Memoir of the Year by Vulture and Library Journal
Named a Most Anticipated Book by the New York Times, Washington PostBoston Globe, TIME, Los Angeles TimesGlobe and Mail,  Literary Hub, Bookpage, The Millions, and Amazon Book Review

“Audacious . . . The stereoscopic structure of the personal and the cultural challenges us to reflect on how the formation of self involves stories told about us as well as those we tell ourselves. In Nguyen’s case, this requires vigorous self-interrogation and self-inventory . . . The subject matter is serious—war, colonization, Nguyen’s mother’s decades-long illness before her death in 2018 and his inability to recall particularly painful times when she was hospitalized—but there is a playfulness as well . . . His most emotionally powerful writing revolves around his parents . . . Sharp and affecting, this book is both: a weapon, a lamentation.”—Lisa Ko, Washington Post

A Man of Two Faces is cocky and riveting—self-consciously constructed as if written for a standup audience. It also serves as a generous, one-stop primer for both his fiction and scholarly work on wars and the ethics of remembrance . . . The mother in this story is an indelible force of nature: She achieves a reconciliation with memory and history by acknowledging the pain of others and affirming her unvanquished will for survival.”—Thúy Đinh, NPR

“If the book’s fragmentary origins are conspicuous, so is the author’s prodigious gift for distilling memory, and its absence, into words that cannot be lost. Scattered throughout are the shards of an intimate personal history, leaving the reader to comb through the debris as if searching for the remains of a loved one.”—Lauren Christensen, New York Times

“Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen returns with a deeply personal and political memoir that uses the defining moments of his own life to explore his conflicted relationship with America . . . A witty and scathing look at what it means to be a refugee, an immigrant, and an American in a world that doesn’t see you as you see yourself.”TIME

“An artfully intertwined medley of Nguyen’s essays, lectures and interviews, A Man of Two Faces is an innovative expose of the racism that shackles refugee populations of color to harmful stereotypes . . . A provocative and dynamic family portrait of America’s immigrants, shining a light on the humanity too few of us see.”—Carol Memmott, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Nguyen, one of today’s most important writers, structures his memoir around learning how to be a man through being a son and then a father. Forced to flee Vietnam with his family as a child, Nguyen grew up around violence in San Jose—his parents were shot in their grocery store when he was 9. But as he grew up and identified as American too, he wondered about this dual legacy, which so infused his Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction. Here he ponders how it has shaped him.”—Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

“Collage may be an apt word to describe this genre-bending memoir from Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur fellow Viet Thanh Nguyen. Weaving together forms that include exquisite prose, verse and photographs, this masterful memoir follows the author and his family from their home country of Vietnam as they resettle in San Jose, including explosive revelations about family, memory and loss.”—Hannah Bae, Datebook

“In this memoir, Nguyen wrestles with his own family’s experience moving from Vietnam to California, violence and racism, and the burning question that so many face: who am I? Teeming with broader stories of immigration and cultural clashes, Nguyen once again offers a thrillingly nuanced portrait of the allegiances, complexities, and aims that guide a single life.”—Al Woodworth, Amazon Book Review

A Man of Two Faces is at its core a memoir about the education of a refugee. Nguyen starts with his early days in the United States. But as Nguyen experiences the world as an Asian American, an academic, a writer, and, eventually, a father, he becomes attuned to the conditions and contradictions that make his life (im)possible—war, displacement, the American dream, and more . . . The memoir is Nguyen’s opportunity to ask: What do we remember and what do we forget? If we forget, why do we forget and for whom are we forgetting? Ourselves? Our loved ones? Our country? And what about cultural memory, which is to say history?”—Eric Nguyen, Electric Literature

A Man of Two Faces pursues in heroic fashion the redemptive power of the writing life. If you
are going through hell, write your way through it, which is precisely how Nguyen’s inventive formal structure comes to life . . . We can almost smell the blood and ink blend on the page as he moves through his recollections, or recollections, and in the process, works his way through the hell of memory, back to the city of the Dionne Warwick song.”—Gary Singh, Alta

“Shattering . . . Nguyen is an intriguing, inventive, and perceptive writer and his mesmerizing memoir takes hold of us.”—Elaine Margolin, New York Journal of Books

“This bold and ambitious memoir from novelist Nguyen employs a dazzling hybrid of prose and poetry to explore the author’s life in America as a Vietnamese refugee . . . A savvy and complex account of coming-of-age in a foreign land.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Nguyen explores ‘the thin border between / history and memory’ in this many-faceted, stylistically complex, eviscerating, and tender montage of memoir, facts, dissent, and clarification . . . A uniquely intricate, clarion, and far-reaching inquiry into what we disparage and what we value, asserting the bedrock necessity of history, story, and remembrance . . . Nguyen’s unflinching blend of memoir and social critique will garner avid attention.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Nguyen blazes a nonlinear, literary way through the histories of Vietnam and the US, his parents’ arduous lives in each and his own struggles to find his voice as citizen, son and writer.”BookPage (starred review)

“A dizzying emotional and intellectual journey through the author’s life and heritage as a refugee from Vietnam, raised primarily in San Jose, California. With daring formal experimentation that blends traditional memoir, personal and critical essays, and blank-verse poetry, Nguyen tells his story as a Vietnamese refugee and American, as a person of many worlds who can live but one life, and as a proud American with many reasons to despise so much of what the U.S. has done and continues to do . . . The result is a remarkable array of deeply felt experiences, intellectual discoveries, and withering dark comedy, driven by clear, unrelenting, and head-throbbing prose that delivers a blistering call for multiracial and decolonial justice. A Man of Two Faces is a courageous and brilliant confrontation with the myriad, often debilitating, contradictions of this world.”Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“A kaleidoscopic memoir . . . Deeply personal and intensely political . . . If the author’s criticism is understandably scathing, there is also a mischievous sense of humor . . . Nguyen indisputably captures the workings of a quicksilver and penetrating mind . . . Lyrical and biting, by one of our leading writers.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Viet Thanh Nguyen’s A Man of Two Faces is a triumphant memoir that sears through the fog of American amnesia. A vulnerable and scorching mirror to self and to nation, his book explores his family’s ‘epic and quotidian’ struggles as refugees and indicts Hollywood as propaganda that has fed the American war machine and anti-Asian racism. It is a fissured lyric on memory and a clarifying meditation on empire. Every American needs to read this essential book.”—Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize 

A Man of Two Faces is a searing and sensitive memoir on the long shadow that war casts on those who manage to survive it. This book is a work of love and anger and care and it will resonate with everyone who has lost a home.”—Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans and Conditional Citizens

A Man of Two Faces is an alchemical feat of memory, history, and theory that beautifully achieves a difficult balance: a bold and searing polemic, it’s at the same time a moving, personal tale. Above all, it’s the story of a son: but what lies at the heart of the son is the mystery of the mother. And what lies at the mystery of the mother is the history of nation, colonization, war. Through his family’s story, Viet Thanh Nguyen renders not only a powerful portrait of America but—perhaps more necessary in our current moment—also an uplifting act of mourning. Simultaneously raw and lucid, haunting and reasoned, A Man of Two Faces opens up groundbreaking ways to speak the nation’s story and a family’s pain.”—Gina Apostol, author of La Tercera

“None of the usual adjectives apply to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir—it is beyond words like brilliant and heartbreaking, because the prose rejects that kind of easy summary. This book belongs with James Baldwin, Claude Brown, Maxine Hong Kingston, and other writers whose memoirs take apart ‘the American Dream’ with laser precision. Nguyen’s tensile anger and evanescent memory is measure of the fundamental sadness of watching his family, and himself, in their dreams, set against the violence and history of this country.”—Susan Straight, author of Mecca, finalist for the Kirkus Prize

Praise for Viet Thanh Nguyen:

“A voice that shakes the walls of the old literary comfort zone . . . May that voice keep running like a purifying venom through the mainstream of our self-regard—through the American dream of distancing ourselves from what we continue to show ourselves to be.”—Jonathan Dee, New Yorker, on The Committed

“Equal parts Ellison’s Invisible Man and Chang-rae Lee’s Henry Park, Nguyen’s nameless narrator is a singular literary creation, a complete original.”—Junot Díaz, New York Times Book Review (cover review), on The Committed

“The narrator’s voice snaps you up. It’s direct, vain, cranky, and slashing—a voice of outraged intelligence. It’s among the more memorable in recent American literature.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times, on The Committed

“Just as The Sympathizer transformed the hulk of an old spy novel, The Committed does the same with a tale of noir crime.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post

The Sympathizer and The Committed are, to borrow James Wood’s phrase for such novels, perpetual-motion machines, their exuberance perhaps a suitable method given how vast a subject he aims to tackle. The breathless voice and sprawling plots of these novels made me think of Midnight’s Children: manic language and impossible story suit the strange truth of colonialism. Nguyen does Salman Rushdie one better by deploying the conventions of genre fiction; he gently seduces the reader into two rambling, discursive works passionately interested in war and violence, race and identity, colonialism and history.”—Rumaan Alam, New York Review of Books

“These two novels constitute a powerful challenge to an enduring narrative of colonialism and neo-colonialism. One waits to see what Nguyen, and the man of two faces, will do next.”—Aminatta Forna, Guardian, on The Committed and The Sympathizer

“One of our great chroniclers of displacement . . . All Nguyen’s fiction is pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes.”—Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker

“A layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a ‘man of two minds’—and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.”—Pulitzer Prize Citation for The Sympathizer

“Remarkable . . . His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless . . . Compares favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene, and le Carré . . . An absurdist tour de force that might have been written by a Kafka or Genet.”—Philip Caputo, New York Times Book Review (cover review), on The Sympathizer

“Intelligent, relentlessly paced and savagely funny . . . The voice of the double-agent narrator, caustic yet disarmingly honest, etches itself on the memory.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal, “Best Books of the Year,” on The Sympathizer

“A fast-paced, entertaining read . . . A much-needed Vietnamese perspective on the war.”—Bill Gates, Gates Notes, on The Sympathizer

“Extraordinary . . . Surely a new classic of war fiction . . . I haven’t read anything since Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that illustrates so palpably how a patient tyrant, unmoored from all humane constraint, can reduce a man’s mind to liquid.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post, on The Sympathizer

“We’ve never had a story quite like this one before . . . Mr. Nguyen is a master of the telling ironic phrase and the biting detail, and the book pulses with Catch-22-style absurdities.”—Sarah Lyall, New York Times, on The Sympathizer

“Beautifully written and meaty . . . I had that kid-like feeling of being inside the book.”—Claire Messud, Boston Globe, on The Sympathizer

“Thrilling in its virtuosity, as in its masterly exploitation of the espionage-thriller genre . . . The book’s (unnamed) narrator speaks in an audaciously postmodernist voice, echoing not only Vladimir Nabokov and Ralph Ellison but the Dostoyevsky of Notes from the Underground.”—Joyce Carol Oates, New Yorker, on The Sympathizer

“Gleaming and uproarious, a dark comedy of confession filled with charlatans, delusionists and shameless opportunists . . . The Sympathizer, like Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, examines American intentions, often mixed with hubris, benevolence and ineptitude, that lead the country into conflict.”—Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, on The Sympathizer

“Dazzling . . . A fascinating exploration of personal identity, cultural identity, and what it means to sympathize with two sides at once.”—John Powers, Fresh Air, NPR, “Books I Wish I’d Reviewed,” on The Sympathizer

“As a writer, [Nguyen] brings every conceivable gift―wisdom, wit, compassion, curiosity―to the impossible yet crucial work of arriving at what he calls ‘a just memory’ of this war.”―Kate Tuttle, Los Angeles Times, on Nothing Ever Dies

“Nguyen’s lucid, arresting, and richly sourced inquiry, in the mode of Susan Sontag and W. G. Sebald, is a call for true and just stories of war and its perpetual legacy.”―Donna Seaman, Booklist, on Nothing Ever Dies (starred review)

“A beautiful collection that deftly illustrates the experiences of the kinds of people our country has, until recently, welcomed with open arms . . . An urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling—it can bear witness to the lives of people who we can’t afford to forget.”—Michael Schaub, NPR Books, on The Refugees

“This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage–and the talent to give us inroads toward understanding it . . . It is refreshing and essential to have this work from a writer who knows and feels the terrain on an intellectual, emotional and cellular level–it shows . . . An exquisite book.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman, Washington Post, on The Refugees

“Confirms Nguyen as an agile, trenchant writer, able to inhabit a number of contrary points of view. And it whets your appetite for his next novel.”—Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times, on The Refugees

“A short-story collection mostly plumbing the experience of boat-bound Vietnamese who escaped to California . . . Ultimately, Nguyen enlarges empathy, the high ideal of literature and the enemy of hate and fear.”—Boris Kachka, New York, on The Refugees

“The book we need now . . . The most timely short story collection in recent memory . . . Throughout, Nguyen demonstrates the richness of the refugee experience, while also foregrounding the very real trauma that lies at its core.”—Doree Shafrir, BuzzFeed, on The Refugees

Read an excerpt:

Excerpted from A Man of Two Faces © 2023 by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

When does memory begin?
What memory is it that I seek?
And where, on the thin border between
history and memory, can I re
member myself?

Memory begins with Ba Má, their images like photographs, their story like a movie, the kind found in the black box of a VHS tape, in an era when I have long ago gotten rid of my VCR.

All our parents should have movies made of their lives. Or at least my parents should. Their epic journey deserves star treatment, even if only in an independent, low-budget film. Beautiful Joan Chen in her prime would play my mother; the young heartthrob Russell Wong, my father.

So what if neither actor is Vietnamese?
We’re all Asians here.

Joan Chen did play a Vietnamese mother in the big-budget Heaven and Earth, Oliver Stone’s biopic about Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese peasant girl caught in the whirlwind of a terrible war. Sexy Russell, with his chiseled cheeks and pouty lips, could have been a movie star if Hollywood ever cast Asian American men as romantic leads. His slicked-back hair reminds me of my father’s in a black-and-white head- shot from the 1950s, his hair agleam. I, whose unending obsession with the styling and maintenance of my hair begins at sixteen, should have asked Ba, when he could still remember, what hair product he used. I could try to fix my own hair in that same fashion, the way I tried on my mother’s gray sweatshirt after she died and discovered that I could fit inside its void.

In this movie flickering in my mind’s musty theater, the songs are composed by the legend Trịnh Công Sơn and sung by his equally legendary muse with the smoky voice, Khánh Ly. Their collabora- tions constitute the soundtrack of nostalgia and loss for Vietnamese exiles and refugees, played on cassette tapes at forty-five minutes a side, filtered through a haze of cigarette smoke and accompanied by Hennessy VSOP cognac. Wong Kar-wai directs in his typically moody, seductive way. The lighting? Dim. The mood? Romantic. The color scheme? Faded Polaroid.

And the actor who plays me? A cute little boy with big black eyes.

After the movie comes and goes,
he is never heard from again.
No one remembers his name.

Perhaps Wong Kar-wai and his cinematographer Christopher Doyle could cast their cinematic spell on our house by the freeway in San José, stained a dark brown perhaps meant to evoke tree bark, built from wood and shingle, stucco and silence, memory and forgetting.

Imagine the realtor’s shock when my parents, refugees not fluent in English, paid in full with cash.

For most refugees and immigrants, life is rented rooms or rented homes, overcrowded apartments or overstuffed houses, extended families and necessary tenants. Cluttered rooms. Bare lives. This is how Fae Myenne Ng describes immigrant living in her novel Bone. Her setting is an unexotic Chinatown, but at least it’s in coastal San Francisco. Who has ever written about provincial San José, an hour’s drive away, or shined the light of cinema on it? At least Dionne Warwick celebrated the city with a song: “Do You Know the Way to San José?”

Of course it’s not as good as the songs about San Francisco.

Our street didn’t even possess a name, like the Mango Street of Sandra Cisneros. Just a direction and a number, South Tenth, black iron bars on the windows. Our countrymen from the old world must have installed those bars, since they could not be opened from inside, trapping us in the event of fire. I blame our countrymen, always taking the shortcut. When some of them pour a cement patio for us, they forget to smooth it, leaving a surface with the texture of the moon.

With a classic San José flourish, the people who buy the house from us later pave the lawn for more parking. My mother used to recline on that lawn, posing to have her picture taken by my father. Our American photos are almost always in color, unlike most of our Vietnamese photos, where a glamorous haze illuminates my parents. My mother, on a grassy slope by a church, is resplendent in one of her many áo dài. My father, slim as one of today’s Korean pop stars, leans with his hip against his Toyota sedan.

His sunglasses have disappeared, dust blown away in all the lost detritus of our past. I could wear them now, be just as fashionable on Sunset Boulevard as he was with his automobile.

Most people owned only motorbikes, if they had even that much. Even today in the place where I come from, more people drive motorbikes than cars. As one joke puts it:

What do you call a Vietnamese minivan?
A motorbike.

In a black-and-white Nick Ut photograph on my living
room wall—not the one of Phan Thị Kim Phúc,
burned by napalm, running and screaming—
a man drives a motorbike, fleeing a battle,
two boys in front of him, wife behind
clutching another boy, two more
boys behind her, staring at
Nick Ut’s camera.

In a flickering single frame of memory, a family employee drives me to preschool on a motorbike. You stood in front of him on his Vespa 50, my father told me a few years ago. I wish I had a photograph of me with the wind in my hair, a perfect shot for Wong Kar-wai to capture as we zoom past sun-browned men pedaling their xích-lô or driving three-wheeled Lambretta taxis. Seat belt? Car seat? Helmets? Ha! This was Việt Nam!

If I were to ask Ba now if he remembered this
memory, I’m afraid he would say
no. So I stay silent.