Reading guide for The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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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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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. The novel opens with a quote from Rithy Panh, "Nothing's more real than nothing." Discuss how this belief shapes the characters. Share what the quote means to you.
  2. Discuss the relevance of the title, The Committed. Which characters in the novel show commitment? Consider whether Nguyen answers the question "committed to what?"
  3. The Committed begins with several refugees stranded at sea praying for rescue. How does the tone of the prologue set the stage for the rest of the novel? Discuss how the characters carry this early experience throughout the story.
  4. The narrator is prone to bouts of weeping and refers to himself as "we." Does this duality, and existential despair, make him an unreliable narrator? Explain your answers.
  5. The Committed offers an unflinching analysis of the aftermath of colonial conquest and the turmoil of the Vietnam war. How is the book like other novels you have read about war and the experiences of refugees, and how is it different? Share how much you knew about the displacement of the Vietnamese people before reading the novel. Did the author provide you with another perspective? Why? How so?
  6. What is the importance of Bon? Analyze the effects that Bon's father's death, and then later that of his wife and son, have on who he becomes. Why do you think Bon opens up to Loan and tells her the truth about who he is?
  7. Discuss the aunt and her left-wing friend's significance in the story? Examine the aunt's power over the narrator.
  8. Sonny and the crapulent major are haunting the narrator and make several appearances in the novel. How does the presence of ghosts change the reading experience? What do the ghosts of the book represent to the characters? Are the readers meant to take the existence of spirits literally? Provide examples of how other characters are connected to the dead.
  9. While in the reeducation camp, our narrator is asked this question in the final exam: "What is more precious than independence and freedom?" The correct response is "Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom" (p. 48). Later in the novel, he amends his answer with "nothing is sacred" (p. 339). Why does he say this? Consider what your answer would have been. Explain your reasons.
  10. How have the blood brothers evolved since the events of The Sympathizer? What still connects them as brothers, and what sets them apart? How would you characterize the friendship between the narrator and Man?
  11. The City of Light of the early 1980s and its iconic landmarks convey a sense of place as the characters try to assimilate to French culture. How does Paris also function as a character?
  12. On page 13, the French Vietnamese aunt says, "Politics is always personal, my dear. That's what makes it deadly." Do you agree with her? Why or why not? Consider how politics is personal to you.
  13. Discuss the importance of naming and why Nguyen chooses to use pseudonyms or no names for several of the main characters. By leaving the characters nameless, what do you think the author is saying about the refugee experience?
  14. The Committed examines the rich complexities of friendship, loyalty, and betrayal. The novel asks the question, "How well do we know our friends?" Discuss the significance of this question.
  15. On page 41, the aunt delivers a scathing indictment of America and capitalism: "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." Discuss her views of America and compare them to your own.
  16. Evaluate the ending of the book. Were you satisfied with what happened to the characters and how their stories ended? If you could change anything about the conclusion, what might you have done differently? Explain your answers.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grove Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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