With The Sympathizer, I had to read the novel twice, much slower the second time, to follow the story and the characters. The Committed, however, is much easier for me to absorb. The structure was less complex and the writing was clearer.
Việt Thanh Nguyễn still has plenty of juice in his crime storytelling. The Committed takes readers into the dark corners in the City of Lights. Vô Danh, the anonymous protagonist, sets his foot in Paris, his father’s country, and joins a Vietnamese gang. On the surface, the novel is a chilling gangster thriller packed with sex, drugs, and violence. In the view of the Boss, a Vietnamese-Chinese gang leader, the Eiffel Tower has a completely different symbol.
On a deeper level, Nguyễn shines the light on racism, colonialism, and communism. Here’s an intriguing commentary on colonizations:
Your father was a colonizer and a pedophile, which go hand in hand. Colonization is pedophilia. The paternal country rapes and molests its unfortunate pupils, all in the holy and hypocritical name of the civilizing mission!
Here’s his take on being Americanized:
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. No, thank you. Don’t you see that’s how the Americans take over the world? Not just through their army and their CIA and their World Bank, but through this infectious disease called the American Dream? You were infected and you barely even realized it!
Of course, he has plenty to say about the French:
The Vietnamese who came to France and did not feel at home returned to Vietnam to fight for the revolution or were deported by the French who suspected them of not being French enough. These were the Vietnamese who believed so sincerely in liberty, equality and fraternity that they did not see the parentheses, which the French used in place of hyphens: “liberty, equality, and fraternity (but just not yet, at least for you).” Flabbergasted, these revolutionaries became the indigestible Vietnamese, the ones who could not swallow France and who could not be swallowed. As for the Vietnamese who stayed in France, French culture had chewed on them since they were in Vietnam. By the time they came to France, they were already, like certain species of cheese, quite soft and easily digestible, qualities inherited by their ideologically pasteurized children.
The Committed is the sequel to The Sympathizer, but it also holds its own. Nguyễn, is a brilliant novelist. Using fiction to provide social and cultural criticisms makes him an important voice in the American literary. I have tremendous respect for him.