The sequel to The Sympathizer, which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and went on to sell over a million copies worldwide, The Committed tells the story of “the man of two minds” as he comes as a refugee to France and turns his hand to capitalism
The long-awaited sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizerby Viet Thanh Nguyen
About the Book
A New York Times Best Seller
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 futures 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 closest 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 highly 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.
Praise for The Committed:
A New York Times Best Seller
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Time, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Slate, BuzzFeed, CrimeReads, Entropy, and Kirkus Reviews
A New York Times Paperback Row Selection
“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. Fortunately for us, this tormented double agent is back for another serving of ghostcolonial discontent in Nguyen’s showstopper sequel, The Committed . . . The novel draws its true enchantment—and its immense power—from the propulsive, wide-ranging intelligence of our narrator as he Virgils us through his latest descent into hell. That he happens to be as funny as he is smart is the best plus of all . . . By the end of The Committed, its cover as a spy novel is blown and its true genre is revealed: It’s a ghost story, if it’s any kind at all. The novel’s tension derives not from whether Vo Danh will survive the drug war or his past offenses, but whether this spectral man will, in the fullest meaning of the word, live . . . If this incandescent novel teaches us anything, it is that forgiveness is a joy of the living, not the burden of the dead.”—Junot Díaz, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“The action of the new novel, set in 1981, is chronologically contiguous with that of The Sympathizer, but ‘sequel’ isn’t quite the right word for it; it’s more like a reloading . . . The absence of conventional craft, as much as the shared content, makes the two books into a single project. It’s the voice of the novels that matters, that ramifies, that keeps one reading: the anger, the indictment, the deep, questioning cynicism . . . It’s a voice that shakes the walls of the old literary comfort zone wherein the narratives of nonwhite ‘immigrants’ were tasked with proving their shared humanity to a white audience . . . 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
“With smoke-and-mirrors panache, The Committed—Viet Thanh Nguyen’s sequel to The Sympathizer—continues the travails of our Eurasian Ulysses, now relocated to France and self-identified as Vo Danh . . . From a satirical James Bond-esque spy story in The Sympathizer, the author shifts to James Baldwin’s intersectional politics in The Committed to address greed, prejudice, and violence . . . The Committed’s revolutionary core is its plasticity—a novel of ideas that continuously shapeshifts to question its raison d’être.”—Thúy Đinh, NPR
“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 . . . The heat in The Committed, of which there is a good deal, derives from the friction created by the narrator’s contradictory thoughts about France, his country’s colonizer. This is a book about humiliation, about repression and expression, about the plasticity of identity.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Takes place entirely in Paris, though not the romantic City of Light. This is Paris beyond the tourist haunts and photo shoots: along dark avenues of warehouses, clubs and restaurants controlled by battling gangs. 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
“An unashamedly political novel of the kind that has been out of fashion for several decades . . . An invitation to the reader to think, not just to feel: to think deeply about political systems and ideologies, whose interests they serve and what, if any, answers they can provide . . . 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
“Powerfully influenced by the equally anonymous narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man . . . In The Committed, [the Captain] is mostly a cynic, and he has been ever since The Sympathizer. This is the heart of his charm, which in this reader’s opinion is more potent than that of the French. I could never entirely believe the Captain as an ardent communist, and in The Committed, he is free to let his sardonic flag fly. He’s at his funniest when pointing out the absurdities around him.”—Laura Miller, Slate
“In a decade whose fiction is dominated by autofiction, there’s something démodé about Nguyen’s novels, which I think can fairly be considered a single artistic endeavor . . . 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
“With The Committed, the captain now sets his sights on the contradictions of another colonial empire. If you thought the US was a warmongering, racist hypocrite of epic proportions, just wait until you hear about France! Nguyen is a perceptive, scathing, and genuinely funny writer . . . Accurately and convincingly depicts a city that both leans on and marginalizes its immigrant and refugee populations . . . Nguyen is a maximalist par excellence, and the furious pace of this novel rarely lets up . . . The moments of pause, when they do come, testify powerfully to this reverberating violence, and to Nguyen’s considerable skills as a novelist.”—Piper French, Los Angeles Review of Books
“An even wilder book than The Sympathizer . . . The book is at once a hardboiled romp and a sleek vessel for Nguyen’s ideas about Vietnam, France, America and the aftermath of colonialism. These are angry books and, like Ellison and Roth, Nguyen knows that sometimes the best way to get anger across is with a good, long, dirty joke.”—Christian Lorentzen, London Review of Books
“The funny, excoriating voice delivering these observations has lost none of its energy since The Sympathizer . . . The biting back and forth of this double-edged novel remains a thrill and a provocation.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Hinges on questions about individual and collective identity and memory, how wars are memorialized, whose war stories get told and what happens when abstract political ideologies are clumsily deployed in the real world.”—Alexandra Alter, New York Times
“The plot of The Committed is action-packed with sex, drugs and violence, but those events don’t characterize the essence of the book. The strength of this novel is the same as that of its predecessor—the probing, sensitive, educated and droll mind of its narrator, who perceives power dynamics that few examine . . . Nguyen fills The Committed with playful literary allusions and delves into critical colonization theory, especially the work of Frantz Fanon. As The Committed unfolds, and the narrator becomes ever more mentally disintegrated, he personifies the contradictions and quicksilver identity shifts of a person raised in a colonized country who becomes a multilingual refugee twice over. It’s heady stuff, but it retains reader appeal through Nguyen’s literary virtuosity . . . Nguyen has once again animated the complexity of a refugee’s situation and plunged into a thicket of thorny matters of politics, nationality, race and identity, but has done so with characteristic heart, style and good humor that will leave readers both schooled and entertained.”—Jenny Shank, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Both a seamless continuation of its predecessor—the same unsparing intellect and take-no-prisoners sardonic wit animate each page—and a stand-alone book . . . One of the many strengths of Ngyuen’s writing is that nothing is spared from his clear-eyed analysis: not France, the United States, or Vietnam, not communism or capitalism, not his characters and most importantly, not his own work.”—Agatha French, Los Angeles Times
“Nguyen has given us a book of ideas in the guise of fiction . . . However, the philosophy is never dry because his characters are busy living it out in a series of increasingly absurd scenarios . . . Nguyen’s work is not for the faint of heart or those without a sense of the absurd. Yet its primary audience may be all of us who long for a deeper conversation, a bolder critique and more radical forms of truth telling.”—Post and Courier
“A sumptuous sequel to The Sympathizer . . . The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist captures, with grace and restraint, the foibles of two young men caught in a duel between East and West.”—O, the Oprah Magazine, “Best Books of the Month”
“The vibrant self-centeredness of 1980s Paris is perfectly captured in Nguyen’s observant prose . . . The plot is frantic and violent—or would be if it weren’t relayed in the wry, intellectually conflicted voice of this narrator . . . Readers who found new ways to think about race and the refugee experience in The Sympathizer will find plenty more to explore.”—Eliot Schrefer, USA Today
“Loneliness and isolation are at the book’s core. Vo Danh and right hand-man Bon arrive in Paris with bags ‘packed with dreams and fantasies, trauma and pain, sorrow and loss, and, of course, ghosts.’ Nguyen once more trades in genre staples—crime fiction and gangster drama get particularly juicy play here—but he’s more dedicated than ever to the ideas behind them, the psychological experience of a life lived as haunted by war, colonization, disenfranchisement, and lies . . . Another exceptionally rendered treatise on identity and trauma.”—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“The tension between the Tarantinoesque thriller elements and the more high-minded cultural critique mirrors the duality in the narrator, whose entire character is informed by a collision of Eastern and Western influences . . . Very much like its central figure, The Committed is a novel that is bifurcated at its core.”—Steven W. Beattie, Toronto Star
“Viet Thanh Nguyen drives home the brutal—and often horrifyingly absurd—effects of colonialism and every other kind of ‘ism’ on human beings . . . The novel is not for the faint of heart, but it speaks with power.”—Christian Science Monitor
“With humor and pathos intact, Nguyen puts the pedal to the metal. If you have spent a distinct chunk of time learning how to breathe to slow down your anxious, racing heart during the pandemic, you will have to utilize your new skills to get through this rapid-fire, violent, funny and terrifying bumper car collision of colonialism, communism and capitalism . . . If you made a coq au vin of John le Carré, Ralph Ellison, Amy Tan and Kurt Vonnegut, and threw in a significant amount of Red Bull and gave the potion to Edgar Wright to put on screen against a soundtrack of Eurotrash disco music, you may begin to come close to describing The Committed . . . A powerhouse of a novel that captures a time left behind and the repercussions of oppression.”—Jana Siciliano, Book Reporter
“Nguyen’s wildly inventive narrative unfolds in a mad rush, a wickedly lethal mix of black humor and the crueler truths of war and historical plunder. Elements of the shadowy intrigue of John le Carré and Graham Greene jostle with the revolutionary theories of Jean-Paul Sartre, The Wretched of the Earth author Frantz Fanon, and Aimé Césaire, the towering anti-colonial poet and politician from Martinique. (If you’re looking for a classic study in ‘decolonizing the mind,’ The Committed is it!) The ironies are rich and run deep throughout Nguyen’s riotous follow-up.”—Anderson Tepper, Air Mail
“Despite its abundance of critical theory, The Committed is anything but didactic. At times, it veers into the scatological, as in a running gag about the state of the toilet the narrator cleans in the worst Asian restaurant in Paris . . . The narrator and his fellow gangsters cite Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon with the same gusto that they stab, shoot, and kill their way through an underworld populated with colorful characters . . . Nguyen playfully subverts the tropes of crime novels, their stylized sex and violence . . . Trenchant.”—Vanessa Hua, Journal of Alta California
“The literary event of the season.”—Chicago Review of Books
“Viet Thanh Nguyen is an American literary treasure . . . The Committed is another triumph of storytelling and the imagination.”—Vietnam Veterans of America Magazine
“Narratively original, intellectually satisfying, and emotionally powerful. The brilliance of the narrator’s voice wears on him, too—it’s the sound of a man trying to outrun his own death, in language.”—Vince Schleitwiler, International Examiner
“Cements [Nguyen’s] reputation as one of America’s most important novelists . . . That Nguyen can pull off this audacious marriage between gang violence and novel of ideas is down to the brilliance of his nameless narrator, a spy and a killer, the orphan son of a French priest (sacré bleu!) and a Vietnamese mother. He is strident, self-pitying, contradictory, perceptive, sentimental, unashamedly intellectual and furiously funny, a kind of post-colonial Portnoy.”—Duncan White, Daily Telegraph (UK)
“Excoriating . . . Savage humour keeps the reader wincing yet entertained.”—Economist
“A brilliant rollercoaster of ideas and action.”—Daily Mail (UK)
“An exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with violence, hidden identity, and meditations on whether the colonized can ever be free . . . The book works both as sequel and standalone, with Nguyen careful to fold in needed backstory, and the author’s wordplay continues to scratch at the narrator’s fractured sense of self . . . Pleasures abound, such as the narrator’s hair-raising escapes, descriptions of the Boss’s hokey bar, and thoughtful references to Fanon and Césaire. Nguyen continues to delight.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Undeniably erudite and culturally fluent as ever—interweaving history, philosophy, political treatise, theology, even literary criticism—Nguyen effortlessly enhances the story with snarky commentary, sly judgments, and plenty of wink-wink-nod-nod posturing to entertain committed readers.”—Terry Hong, Booklist
“The conflicted spy of Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer returns, embroiled in Paris’s criminal underworld . . . The pages are rife with prostitutes, drugs, and, in the late pages, gunplay. But, as in The Sympathizer, Nguyen keeps the thriller-ish aspects at a low boil, emphasizing a mood of black comedy driven by the narrator’s intellectual crisis . . . Nguyen is deft at balancing his hero’s existential despair with the lurid glow of a crime saga. A quirky intellectual crime story that highlights the Vietnam War’s complex legacy.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Invites debate through its complex portrayal of political alignments, racial identity and, as the narrator admits, selfish flaws. It’s richly layered with philosophical arguments and intellectual ideas, as well as a small but engrossing dose of criminal thrills . . . Reminiscent of John Le Carré’s deeply textured spy novels, The Committed proves Nguyen is no one-hit wonder when it comes to fine literature.”—Book Page
“Call The Committed many things. A white hot literary thriller disguised as a searing novel of ideas. An unflinching look at redemption and damnation. An unblinking examination of the dangers of belief, and the need to believe. A sequel that goes toe to toe with the original then surpasses it. A masterwork.”—Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
“The Committed is nothing short of revelatory. As it haunts, bifurcates, and envelops us in its illumination of all that we have failed to notice about the far reaches of colonization, we are also thrilled by its many turns and charms. This book is fierce, and unrelentingly good. Hilarious and subversive, philosophical and hallucinatory, it is much more than a sequel, more like a necessary appendage in a brilliant and expansive anti-colonial body of work, from the twisted and playful mind of the one and only Viet Thanh Nguyen. Bravo.”—Tommy Orange, New York Times-bestselling author of There There
“This follow-up to his seminal The Sympathizer is Nguyen at his most ambitious and bold. Fierce in tone, capacious, witty, sharp, and deeply researched, The Committed marks, not just a sequel to its groundbreaking predecessor, but a sum total accumulation of a life devoted to Vietnamese American history and scholarship. This novel, like all daring novels, is a Trojan Horse, whose hidden power is a treatise of global futurity in the aftermath of colonial conquest. It asks questions central both to Vietnamese everywhere—and to our very species: How do we live in the wake of seismic loss and betrayal? And, perhaps even more critically, How do we laugh?”—Ocean Vuong, New York Times-bestselling author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
“The Committed, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s furious and exhilarating sequel to The Sympathizer, is part gangster-thriller, part searing cultural analysis of the post-colonial predicament, seen through the eyes of a Vietnamese-French mixed race bastard double agent. Paris of forty years ago swirls to life around him, from intellectual salons to filthy toilets—with glimpses of everyone from Johnny Hallyday to Frantz Fanon to Julia Kristeva. Like Ellison’s Invisible Man, these novels will surely become classics.”—Claire Messud
“An elegy to idealism, Orientalism, and existentialism in all its tragic forms, Nguyen’s novel doesn’t so much inhabit early eighties Paris, as it pulls the plug on the City of Light. Think of The Committed as the declaration of the 20th ½ Arrondissement. A squatter’s paradise for those with one foot in the grave and the other shoved halfway up Western civilization’s ass.”—Paul Beatty
“The Committed is a wonderful successor to The Sympathizer, a splendid tapestry of a novel, full of dubious but richly realized characters. It solidifies what we already know — Viet Thanh Nguyen is a gifted storyteller. It is difficult to know where to start with the praise. The characters have a sad and often tragic complexity, and the language offers a terrific ride for the reader. This is a grand novel full of breathtaking and luminous insights and a pure joy to read. Anticipation is why we come to a book, and joy is why we keep turning page after page. The Committed offers both, and so very much more.”—Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World
“The Committed is a rich and exhilarating story of friendship, loyalty, and greed. Set in 1980s Paris, it follows the characters from The Sympathizer as they try to fashion new lives among all the wretched of the earth. Viet Thanh Nguyen gives us an unsparing look at the poisonous effects of ideology—whether colonialism, communism, or capitalism—even as he explores the deep-seated need we all have to believe in something. A deep, compelling and humorous portrait of how we are shaped by fictions others have for us.”—Laila Lalami, author of The Other Americans, finalist for the National Book Award
“Viet Thanh Nguyen’s return to the novel five years after his landmark debut, The Sympathizer, has along the way included a National Book Award finalist book of cultural history and reckoning, a book of short stories, a co-authored children’s book, all manner of engagement and support of other writers’ work, especially those of the Vietnamese refugee diaspora, and a series of astute, compelling op-ed critiques of US culture and politics. His much-anticipated return to the novel brings him back to the story begun in The Sympathizer, an act of risk and daring—given how singularly brilliant that book was. The Committed picks up where its predecessor left off in a freestanding work (you needn’t have read the earlier) that is every much its equal, and then some, in daring, suspense, literary mastery. We are in refugee and another layer of exile territory again, this time Paris, with a life that at first is less fraught then becomes taut, commerce and attendant dealings and betrayals there at the telltale heart of things. So much gets said here, in the best possible ways. Viet Thanh Nguyen has done it again.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle)
“You wouldn’t think Viet Thanh Nguyen could match the brilliance of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, but his latest book The Committed is a dazzling follow-up and a glorious novel in its own right. Our nameless protagonist is now in Paris, wandering amid its metropolitan delights even as he can’t escape his tortured past. Ngyuen contrasts high-minded interior monologues against gritty immigrant Paris, making The Committed both a virtuosic philosophical novel and a racing story of revenge and betrayal. I can’t think of a novel that has so deftly blended literary style and emotional heft since Midnight’s Children.”—David Enyeart, Next Chapter Books (Saint Paul, MN)
Praise for Viet Thanh Nguyen:
“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
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Guide by Keturah Jenkins
1. The novel opens with a quote from Rithy Panh, “Nothing’s more real than nothing.” Discuss how this belief shapes the characters. Share what the quote means to you.
2. Discuss the relevance of the title, The Committed. Which characters in the novel show commitment? Consider whether Nguyen answers the question “committed to what?”
3. The Committed begins with several refugees stranded at sea praying for rescue. How does the tone of the prologue set the stage for the rest of the novel? Discuss how the characters carry this early experience throughout the story.
4. The narrator is prone to bouts of weeping and refers to himself as “we.” Does this duality, and existential despair, make him an unreliable narrator? Explain your answers.
5. The Committed offers an unflinching analysis of the aftermath of colonial conquest and the turmoil of the Vietnam war. How is the book like other novels you have read about war and the experiences of refugees, and how is it different? Share how much you knew about the displacement of the Vietnamese people before reading the novel. Did the author provide you with another perspective? Why? How so?
6. What is the importance of Bon? Analyze the effects that Bon’s father’s death, and then later that of his wife and son, have on who he becomes. Why do you think Bon opens up to Loan and tells her the truth about who he is?
7. Discuss the aunt and her left-wing friend’s significance in the story? Examine the aunt’s power over the narrator.
8. Sonny and the crapulent major are haunting the narrator and make several appearances in the novel. How does the presence of ghosts change the reading experience? What do the ghosts of the book represent to the characters? Are the readers meant to take the existence of spirits literally? Provide examples of how other characters are connected to the dead.
9. While in the reeducation camp, our narrator is asked this question in the final exam: “What is more precious than independence and freedom?” The correct response is “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom” (p. 48). Later in the novel, he amends his answer with “nothing is sacred” (p. 339). Why does he say this? Consider what your answer would have been. Explain your reasons.
10. How have the blood brothers evolved since the events of The Sympathizer? What still connects them as brothers, and what sets them apart? How would you characterize the friendship between the narrator and Man?
11. The City of Light of the early 1980s and its iconic landmarks convey a sense of place as the characters try to assimilate to French culture. How does Paris also function as a character?
12. On page 13, the French Vietnamese aunt says, “Politics is always personal, my dear. That’s what makes it deadly.” Do you agree with her? Why or why not? Consider how politics is personal to you.
13. Discuss the importance of naming and why Nguyen chooses to use pseudonyms or no names for several of the main characters. By leaving the characters nameless, what do you think the author is saying about the refugee experience?
14. The Committed examines the rich complexities of friendship, loyalty, and betrayal. The novel asks the question, “How well do we know our friends?” Discuss the significance of this question.
15. On page 41, the aunt delivers a scathing indictment of America and capitalism: “The American Way of Life! Eat too much, work too much, buy too much, read too little, think even less, and die in poverty and insecurity.” Discuss her views of America and compare them to your own.
16. Evaluate the ending of the book. Were you satisfied with what happened to the characters and how their stories ended? If you could change anything about the conclusion, what might you have done differently? Explain your answers.
Suggestions for further reading:
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes
Human Acts by Han Kang
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us by Joseph Andras
The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields by Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille