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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Chapter 1

I may no longer be a spy or a sleeper, but I am most definitely a spook. How can I not be, with two holes in my head from which leaks the black ink in which I am writing these words. What a peculiar condition, being dead yet penning these lines in my little room in Paradise. This must make me a ghostwriter, and as such, it is a simple, if spooky, matter to dip my pen into the ink flowing from my twin holes, one drilled by myself, the other by Bon, my best friend and blood brother. Put your gun down, Bon. You can only kill me once.

Or maybe not. I am also still a man of two faces and two minds, one of which might perhaps yet still be intact. With two minds, I am able to see any issue from both sides, and while I once flattered myself that this was a talent, now I understand it to be a curse. What was a man with two minds except a mutant? Perhaps even a monster. Yes, I admit it! I am not just one but two. Not just I but you. Not just me but we.

You ask me what we should be called, having been nameless for so long. I hesitate to give you a straight answer, as that has never been my habit. I am a man of bad habits, and every time I have been broken of one—never having given up such a thing willingly—I have always gone back to it, whimpering and dewy-eyed.

Take these words, for example. I am writing them, and writing is the worst of habits. While most people squeeze what they can from their lives, suffering for their paychecks, absorbing vitamin D as they enjoy the sunshine, hunting for another member of the species with whom to procreate or just to rut, and refusing to think about death, I pass my time with pen and paper in my corner of Paradise, growing ever whiter and thinner, frustration steaming from my head, the sweat of sorrow sticking to me.

I could tell you the name I have in my passport, VO DANH. I assumed this name in anticipation of coming here to Paris, or, as our French masters taught us to call it, the City of Light. We, Bon and I, arrived in the airport at night on a flight from Jakarta. Stepping out of the airplane, we were gripped by a sense of relief, for we had reached asylum, the fever dream of all refugees, especially those rendered refugees not just once or twice but three times: 1954, nine years after I was born; 1975, when I was young and reasonably handsome; and 1979, just two years ago. Was the third time the charm, as the Americans liked to say? Bon sighed before he pulled his airline-provided sleeping mask over his eyes. Let's just hope France is better than America.

That hope was ill-advised if one judged countries by their border officials. The one who inspected my passport wore the blank mask of all security guards as he studied my photograph and then me. His pale face seemed displeased that someone had granted me access to his beloved country, this man who lacked both an upper lip and a mustache to disguise his lack. You're Vietnamese, this white man said, the first words ever uttered to me on visiting my father's homeland for the first time.

Yes! I am Vo Danh! Along with my best French accent, I gave the border policeman my most fawning smile, ingratiating to the point of being grating. But my father is French. Maybe I am also French?

His bureaucratic brain processed this statement, and when he finally smiled, I thought, Ah! I have made my first joke in French! But what he said was: No ... you ... are ... definitely ... not ... French. Not ... with ... a ... name ... like ... this. Then he stamped my passport with my date of entry, 18/07/81, and flicked it across the counter, already looking over my shoulder at the next supplicant.

I met Bon on the other side of passport control. We had at last stepped foot on la Gaule, as my father had taught me to call France in his parish school. It was fitting, then, that the airport was named after Charles de Gaulle, the greatest of great Frenchmen in recent memory. The hero who had liberated France from the Nazis while continuing to enslave us Vietnamese. Ah, contradiction! The perpetual body odor of humanity! No one was spared, not even the Americans or the Vietnamese, who bathed daily, or the French, who bathed less than daily. No matter our nationality, we all got used to the aroma of our own contradictions.

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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