Friday, December 22, 2017

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen ------------------ 2 Stars

Without a doubt, this is the longest break between blogs since I started over seven years ago. There's a couple of factors. First, the fall tends to be the busiest time at work during the year. Second, I try to read the Atlantic cover to cover and they have two double issues during this time; this kind of kills the available reading time I have. Third, and by far the most important, The Sympathizer was tough to get through.

Now, I'm a bit torn. This book was highly recommended and won the Pulitzer Prize last year. And though it was a slog to finish, when I did, I was really happy I stuck with it and completed. It had some great themes and nuanced points to make about main characters struggles. (Plot side note: the book is about the end of the Vietnam war and subsequent life of the main character (a communist sympathizer) and others living abroad in America).
In fact, the interview with the author, postscript, actually helped clarify much of the novels purpose and shed light onto a number of not yet realized, at least to me, plot developments. One more positive, there was a few funny parts of the book as well.

Though, as much I enjoyed finishing up the novel and understanding more about the author's intent, I couldn't get past the difficulty of actually pushing through the entire novel. The problem -- it simply wasn't interesting. The plot set up was one with a lot of promise, but clearly did not live up to my expectations. While there are some "action" scenes in the novel, they are told so slowly that you can't help but wish the author would speed them up. Interestingly, I didn't even find the details he continually offered helped anything. Rather, I'm not sure what took up so many pages of the novel. Also, what bothered me immensely, the book had no dialogue. Well, it did have people talking on few occasions (thus neglecting one of my favorite parts of a book), but the author refused to use quotation marks. This cool writing style did not go over well with me. So, I was left with a book with a very slow plot, occasional dialogue (always fun to try to remember who was talking), and some less than interesting characters.

So, clearly, I was not a huge fan of this book. I really tried to be, and there must be many others that are (like the people that give the Pulitzer!). I, also, can see why this book did receive so many awards. There is a smartness to Nguyen's writing that few authors have. In the end, however, I base my ratings exclusively on entertainment value, and this one just didn't do it for me.