Except for that the creator, Viet Thanh Nguyen, used to be too startlingly sensible to forget about. “The Sympathizer” flushed colour again into the ones iconic pictures of the autumn of Saigon and recast the worn courses of the Vietnam Warfare in the course of the eyes of a communist agent hiding in the USA. An speedy vintage, the unconventional aggressively engaged with the country’s mythology and demonstrated Nguyen’s strange highbrow dramatic vary. “The Sympathizer” swept in the course of the 12 months’s literary awards, successful a Pulitzer Prize, a Carnegie Medal, the Heart for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Asian/Pacific American Award, an Edgar Award and extra.
Now, Nguyen returns to the scene of that triumph with an excellent brainier sequel known as “The Dedicated.” “I might now not be a undercover agent or a sleeper, however I’m maximum no doubt a spook,” the unnamed narrator starts. “I’m additionally nonetheless a person of 2 faces and two minds, one in every of which would possibly possibly but nonetheless be intact.”
Should you learn “The Sympathizer,” you’ll right away acknowledge this ironic and forever conflicted voice. Should you haven’t learn “The Sympathizer,” you’ll be hopelessly misplaced, so don’t even bring to mind leaping in right here. The surroundings and motion of this 2d ebook are other, however “The Dedicated” is so depending on previous relationships and plot main points that those two novels are extra like volumes of the similar proceeding tale.
“The Dedicated” by no means units foot in the USA. As an alternative, it takes position solely in Paris, although no longer the romantic Town of Gentle. That is Paris past the vacationer haunts and photograph shoots: alongside darkish avenues of warehouses, golf equipment and eating places managed through struggling with gangs. Simply as “The Sympathizer” reworked the hulk of an previous undercover agent novel, “The Dedicated” does the similar with a story of noir crime.
The unconventional opens in 1981 when the dangerously sympathetic undercover agent arrives in Paris together with his previous buddy Bon. They have got survived a 12 months of torture in a reeducation camp in Vietnam and are actually being rewarded with new lives a few of the French. “Our luggage had been full of desires and fantasies,” the narrator says, “trauma and ache, sorrow and loss, and, in fact, ghosts. Since ghosts had been weightless, lets elevate a vast selection of them.”
The ones ghosts — which come with his French father, a clergyman — have interaction with the residing on this new Parisian association. Even supposing the narrator is now not a certified undercover agent, his existence isn’t any much less clandestine than ever. Bon, his buddy, remains to be made up our minds to kill communists and has no concept that the narrator is one. However possibly that received’t subject of their new line of labor as underlings for a Vietnamese drug lord. Right here, indisputably, they are able to simply fake to be waiters at “the worst Asian eating place in Paris” and brush ideological issues apart whilst gathering coverage cash and distributing cannabis.
Au contraire. In France, the narrator reveals himself contending with attitudes a long way murkier than the rest he skilled within the proudly fantastical United States. Right here, his hosts are seductive buyers and brutal colonizers, as proud of their aesthetic superiority as they’re with their racial dominance. That creates a profoundly unsettling atmosphere for immigrants. “Loving a grasp who kicks you isn’t an issue if this is all one feels,” the narrator explains, “however loving and hating will have to be saved a filthy little secret, for loving the grasp one hates inevitably induces confusion and self-hatred.” And that painful conundrum is invested of their maximum prized ownership, the French language, which right away pronounces the refugee as the opposite, the intruder, the barbarian. “There used to be little need for the French to sentence us,” the narrator says. “As long as we spoke of their language, we condemned ourselves.”
Underneath the facade of Parisian class, Nguyen describes the carnage of ethnic violence performed through Vietnamese and Algerian immigrants competing for territory within the narcotic business. With alarming regularity, drug offers move unhealthy and crooks search vengeance within the language all of them talk fluently: ache. As in “The Sympathizer,” “The Dedicated” is devoted to the proposition that with persistence and the best gear an individual may also be liquefied with beautiful care.
However all that agony — and there’s a large number of it — is subsumed inside the narrator’s introspection. “My existence as a progressive and a undercover agent were designed to reply to one query,” he tells us, “WHAT IS TO BE DONE?” As a person riddled with sympathy, riven with a nagging appreciation for each side, he’s doomed to bewilderment, to irony, to a maddening sense of his personal irreconcilable doubleness. “All my existence I handiest ever aspired to 1 factor — to be human,” he cries. However to what reason will have to he be dedicated? Or will have to he, as a substitute, be dedicated to an asylum? Most likely handiest the nothingness of Sartre can be offering him reduction.
“The French and the Vietnamese shared a love for depression and philosophy,” the narrator says, “that the manically constructive American citizens may by no means perceive.” The similar hurdle will problem American readers of “The Dedicated,” which is closely fortified with philosophical rumination. On this novel, even the whorehouse bouncer reads Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire. If the person’s dimension doesn’t scare you clear of the pleasures inside, his bookshelf would possibly.
Viet Thanh Nguyen will discuss “The Dedicated” with Tommy Orange throughout a streaming presentation from Politics & Prose Book shop on March 11, 2021, at eight p.m. ET.
Grove/Atlantic. 345 pp. $27