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Monday, December 4, 2017
2:30–4:00 p.m.


University Center Rooms 211/212

Literature and the Human Condition: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

An interdisciplinary colloquium sponsored by Adelphi’s School of Social Work.

All members of the Adelphi Community are welcome.

Literature and the Human Condition, No. 50  
The Sympathizer (Grove Press, 2015) 
By Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction


Hanna Kim, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Martin Haas, Associate Professor of History


Marilyn Paul, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Social Work
Gertrude Goldberg, Professor Emeritus, School of Social Work

Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in the United States. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Honors for The Sympathizer in addition to the Pulitzer Prize, include: the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. Nguyen’s work of nonfiction, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, has also been lauded.

The narrator of The Sympathizer is a communist double agent, a mole and a Captain who serves as the aide-de camp of a South Vietnamese General. He is half-French, half-Vietnamese, the son of a French Catholic priest and his Vietnamese maid. The nameless narrator has a harrowing escape from the Saigon airport on the eve of the South Vietnamese/American defeat—one in which the infant son and wife of his best friend Bon are killed by VietCong bombing. While building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in the United States, the narrator is secretly reporting back to Man, his close friend and communist handler.

Excerpts from The Sympathizer

(p. 1) I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps the sole talent I possess…

(pp. 16-17) It was “Yesterday” by the Beatles. As the three of us joined in singing, my eyes grew moist. What was it like to live in a time when one’s fate was not war, when one was not led by the craven and the corrupt, when one’s country was not a basket case kept alive only through the intravenous drip of American aid?…. So it was that for two minutes we sang with all our hearts, feeling only for the past and turning our gaze from the future, swimmers doing the backstroke toward a waterfall.

(p. 29) ….America, land of supermarkets and superhighways, of supersonic jets and Superman, of supercarriers and the Super Bowl! America, a country not content simply to give itself a name on its bloody birth, but one that insisted for the first time in history on a mysterious acronym, USA, a trifecta of letters outdone later only by the quartet of the USSR. Although every country thought itself superior in its own way, was there ever a country that coined so many “super” terms from the federal bank of its narcissism, was not only superconfident but also truly superpowerful, that would not be satisfied until it locked every nation of the world into a full nelson and made it cry Uncle Sam?

“… to any young person who wishes to go into the social … field, I say bring with you all that you can that softens life, all the poesy; all the sympathetic interpretation.” –Jane Addams, 1911

For more information, please contact:

Marilyn Paul
e –

Gertrude Goldberg
e –

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