New to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s work, I knew he was a phenomenal author, and my friends and colleagues thought highly of his work, mind, and writing. When I picked up The Committed –thinking I should probably read The Sympathizer first— I quickly annotated a line that “blew my mind away.” This was only two pages into the prologue. From that moment on, Nguyen’s writing, fraught with philosophical and open-ended questions, filled me with wonder.
The book strolls as it talks about “charming” things – an adjective I’d use to describe Nguyen’s writing style. He is generous in his descriptions which emphasizes the attention to detail that the narrator has. Long sentences impact the novel’s pacing. In scenarios where the narrator feels more frantic about his environment and the events, the narration feels as if it moves quicker. When he is relaxed and just observant, readers calmly take it all in with him.
The Committed starts off bold. There is agony, there is anger, there are deaths, and there is a dire situation at hand that doesn’t seem fair at all. There’s a tenuous concept whereby France is charming in a way that Vietnam, “repulsed or seduced,” could never be, and yet charming remains “too moderate of an adjective for a country and a people as hot and hot-blooded as [the narrator].” As a mixed ethnic character, the narrator grappled with overlapping and diverging characteristics such as charming qualities, aptitudes towards philosophical discussions and knowledge, preferred drugs, and the sophistication of citizens as witnessed in the American, Vietnamese, and French cultures he inhabited.
Then, there are the conversations the work has about political and racial issues. In terms of political, the work examines communism and anti-communism as this is also a book about espionage and death. An important framing sentence from the book is spoken by the narrator’s aunt: “Politics is always personal. That’s what makes it deadly.” The Committed boldly asserts that people are willing to die and kill for the ideologies that they believe in. In terms of race, racism as well as the challenges people of mixed ethnicities feel, especially in a diaspora, are explored. With the narrator being half-Vietnamese and half-French, despite France being his father’s homeland, he remains outcasted as “not French.” In The Committed Viet captures how the Vietnamese adapted and expanded past the colonization they experienced at the hands of the French. Something I’d like to highlight from the book is a comment about baguettes, where the Vietnamese turned a quintessential French symbol into something distinctly Vietnamese and preferred by making banh mi, which was “far tastier and more imaginative” than French sandwiches.
Despite being the sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed does not require that readers enter into the sequel having read the first novel. While I do plan to read The Sympathizer and believe that everyone should, I also believe Nguyen does a wonderful job at fleshing out the backstories of the characters and uses references to prior events or moments to fill holes in the storyline. Having read The Committed, I understand why many admire Viet Thanh Nguyen’s work.
Maliyah Fick - CLA Team Member