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Reviews of The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Committed

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen X
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2022, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

Book Summary

The long-awaited new novel from one of America's most highly regarded contemporary writers, The Committed follows the Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris as a refugee.

The long-awaited new novel from one of America's most highly regarded contemporary writers, The Committed follows the unnamed Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris in the early 1980s with his blood brother Bon. The pair try to overcome their pasts and ensure their futures by engaging in capitalism in one of its purest forms: drug dealing.

Traumatized by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, Man, and struggling to assimilate into French culture, the Sympathizer finds Paris both seductive and disturbing. As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals whom he meets at dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese "aunt," he finds stimulation for his mind but also customers for his narcotic merchandise. But the new life he is making has perils he has not foreseen, whether the self-torture of addiction, the authoritarianism of a state locked in a colonial mindset, or the seeming paradox of how to reunite his two closest friends whose worldviews put them in absolute opposition. The Sympathizer will need all his wits, resourcefulness, and moral flexibility if he is to prevail.

Both literary thriller and novel of ideas, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen's position in the firmament of American letters.

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 ...

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Just like The Sympathizer, The Committed is not a pleasant book, but it is an important book. I wouldn't even really call it an enjoyable book, although it is a joy to read Nguyen's masterful turns of phrase and skillful wordplay. He truly is an exceptional writer and it is this gift, along with the pulpy nature of the storyline, that keeps us reading curiously, pushing through our discomfort to engage with the ideas and philosophies that Nguyen presents. It is in this sense that the sequel furthers the mission that the first book began, by pushing boundaries and confronting difficult truths...continued

Full Review (669 words)

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(Reviewed by Jennifer Hon Khalaf).

Media Reviews

BookPage
Invites debate through its complex portrayal of political alignments, racial identity and, as the narrator admits, selfish flaws. It’s richly layered with philosophical arguments and intellectual ideas, as well as a small but engrossing dose of criminal thrills...Reminiscent of John Le Carré’s deeply textured spy novels, The Committed proves Nguyen is no one-hit wonder when it comes to fine literature.

New York Times
The first 100 pages of The Committed are, to my mind, better than anything in the first novel. The narrator’s voice snaps you up. It’s direct, vain, cranky and slashing — a voice of outraged intelligence. It’s among the more memorable in recent American literature...I’m of two minds about The Committed. I’ll put my feelings this way, borrowing something the English writer Jonathan Coe said about Fedora, Billy Wilder’s penultimate film: 'Flawed and bonkers, but I like it.'

O, the Oprah Magazine
A sumptuous sequel to The Sympathizer...The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist captures, with grace and restraint, the foibles of two young men caught in a duel between East and West.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A]s in The Sympathizer, Nguyen keeps the thriller-ish aspects at a low boil, emphasizing a mood of black comedy driven by the narrator's intellectual crisis...Though the storytelling...gets convoluted...Nguyen is deft at balancing his hero's existential despair with the lurid glow of a crime saga. A quirky intellectual crime story that highlights the Vietnam War's complex legacy.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with violence, hidden identity, and meditations on whether the colonized can ever be free...The book works both as sequel and standalone...the author's wordplay continues to scratch at the narrator's fractured sense of self...Nguyen continues to delight.

Booklist
Undeniably erudite and culturally fluent as ever—interweaving history, philosophy, political treatise, theology, even literary criticism—Nguyen effortlessly enhances the story with snarky commentary, sly judgments, and plenty of wink-wink-nod-nod posturing to entertain committed readers.

Author Blurb Marlon James, Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
Call The Committed many things. A white hot literary thriller disguised as a searing novel of ideas. An unflinching look at redemption and damnation. An unblinking examination of the dangers of belief, and the need to believe. A sequel that goes toe to toe with the original then surpasses it. A masterwork.

Author Blurb Ocean Vuong, New York Times-bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
This follow-up to his seminal The Sympathizer is Nguyen at his most ambitious and bold. Fierce in tone, capacious, witty, sharp, and deeply researched, The Committed marks, not just a sequel to its groundbreaking predecessor, but a sum total accumulation of a life devoted to Vietnamese American history and scholarship. This novel, like all daring novels, is a Trojan Horse, whose hidden power is a treatise of global futurity in the aftermath of colonial conquest. It asks questions central both to Vietnamese everywhere—and to our very species: How do we live in the wake of seismic loss and betrayal? And, perhaps even more critically, How do we laugh?

Author Blurb Paul Beatty
An elegy to idealism, Orientalism, and existentialism in all its tragic forms, Nguyen's novel doesn't so much inhabit early eighties Paris, as it pulls the plug on the City of Light. Think of The Committed as the declaration of the 20th ½ Arrondissement. A squatter's paradise for those with one foot in the grave and the other shoved halfway up Western civilization's ass.

Author Blurb Tommy Orange, New York Times-bestselling author of There There
The Committed is nothing short of revelatory...This book is fierce, and unrelentingly good. Hilarious and subversive, philosophical and hallucinatory, it is much more than a sequel, more like a necessary appendage in a brilliant and expansive anti-colonial body of work. Bravo.

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Beyond the Book

The Vietnamese French

The exterior of a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris's Quartier AsiatiqueIn The Committed, Vo Danh immigrates to Paris in order to escape danger. As the illegitimate child born from sexual abuse between a French priest and a Vietnamese woman, Vo Danh is a metaphor for the rape of Vietnam perpetrated by French colonialism. He goes back to his fatherland to confront the post-Vietnam War legacy and how it synthesizes with this post-colonial inheritance. The longstanding relationship between France and Vietnam and its uneasy power dynamics are reflected in the nature of the Vietnamese-French community which Vo Danh joins.

Vietnamese history is one of repeated invasion and resistance. France became complicit with that history in 1887 when it colonized modern-day Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, forming a federation ...

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