Excerpt from The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Committed

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen X
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 400 pages

    Mar 2022, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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Print Excerpt

My God! She seized me by the shoulders and made kissing sounds as she touched first one cheek and then the other to mine in that charming French manner of greeting, which had never been extended to me by the French in my homeland, including my French father. You two need new clothes. And haircuts!

Yes, she was definitely French.

I introduced her to Bon in French, but he responded in Vietnamese. He had a lycée education, like me, but he hated the French and was here only for my sake. It was true that the French had given him a scholarship, but he had otherwise never benefitted from them in any way, except for traveling on the roads that they had designed, which were hard to be grateful for given that the slave labor of peasants like Bon's family had built them. My aunt switched to Vietnamese as she led us to the taxi queue, inquiring about our travels and our travails in the purest, most classical version of our language, spoken by Hanoi's intellectuals. Bon was silent. His own dialect blended the rural north, where our families originated from, and the rural south outside of Saigon. His parents had settled there after our Catholic exodus from the north in '54, the first of our three refugee experiences. It was either shame for his dialect that kept him quiet or, more likely, seething rage. Anything from Hanoi might be communist, and anything that might be communist was undoubtedly communist, at least to someone as maniacally anticommunist as he was. He wasn't even thankful for the only gift our communist captors ever gave him, the lesson that what does not kill you makes you stronger. That must mean Bon and I were now supermen.

What do you do? he finally said once we were in the taxi, my aunt between us in the back seat.

My aunt looked at me with great reproach and said, I see my nephew has said nothing about me. I'm an editor.

Editor? I almost said it out loud but stopped myself, for I was supposed to know who my aunt was. In seeking a sponsor for our departure from the refugee camp, I had written to her—not in code this time—because she was the only one I knew who was not an American. She would likely inform Man of my arrival, but I preferred that certainty over returning to America, where I had committed crimes of which I had never been convicted but of which I was not proud.

She named a publishing house I had not heard of. I make my living in books, she said. Mostly fiction and philosophy.

The noise in Bon's throat indicated how he was not the kind that read, except for the army field manual, tabloid newspapers, and the notes that I stuck on the refrigerator door. He would have been more comfortable with my aunt if she were actually a seamstress, and I was thankful that I had told Bon nothing about her.

I want to hear about everything you've been through, my aunt said. The reeducation and then the refugee camp. You are the first ones I've met who went through reeducation!

Perhaps not tonight, dear aunt, I said. I did not tell her of the confession I had written under great duress in reeducation, hidden in my leather duffel's false bottom, along with a disintegrating copy of Hedd's book, its pages yellowing. I was not even sure why I bothered to hide my confession, for the last person who should read it, Bon, showed no interest in its existence at all. Like me, he had been tortured into writing his own confession many times in the reeducation camp; unlike me, he did not know that it was Man, his blood brother, who was the commissar of the camp. How could he, when the commissar did not have a face? What Bon did know, he said, was that a confession extracted under torture was nothing but lies. Like most people, he believed that lies, no matter how often you told them, never became truth. Like my father, the priest, I was the kind who believed quite the opposite.

Excerpted from The Committed © 2021 Viet Thanh Nguyen. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Grove Press, and imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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