The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen Summary Study Guide

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Plot Summary Part 3

But Sonny does not believe that the Captain is a communist so the Captain shoots him in the head and kills him. He feels very upset about this but figures there is no other way to accompany Bon on his mission in his efforts to save Bon's life.

They go to Thailand and infiltrate into Vietnam, where the communist soldiers are waiting for them in ambush, which is no surprise since the Captain told them everything in advance. The Captain is happy that he and Bon are taken alive but seems to have no remorse for the other soldiers with them who are killed or captured.

The Captain is held in solitary confinement in a reeducation camp for a year and is forced to write a self-confession. He does so repeatedly but the commandant of the camp is not satisfied. The commandant says the content of the confession is ok but the style isn't. He is blamed for not quoting Ho Chi Minh enough in his confession.

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There are frequent references to the commandant's boss, the "commissar", for pages and pages. Finally, the Captain gets to meet the commissar. As I guessed correctly, this is the Captain's old friend Man.

The Captain asks why he has been held in solitary for a year. Man reminded him that he warned the Captain not to return to Vietnam. In an unguarded moment we learn that Man, the commissar, no longer believes in communism, and was trying to protect the Captain by keeping him from returning, saying "Now that we are the powerful, we don't need the French or the Americans to fuck us over. We can fuck ourselves just fine."

Now that the Captain has returned, Man has to be tough on him because the other commissars are watching. But Man has been protecting him, saying that if the Commandant had his way, the Captain would have been sent on a team to remove mines from the swamp.

Man has his own problems. His face has melted. He got caught in a napalm explosion which melted his face. Now he's in constant pain and has to be on morphine all the time and his face is hideous to look at. At one point he even gives a gun to the Captain and asks the Captain to kill him, even though he knows it will mean death for the Captain.

Anyway Man continues the interrogation of the Captain, subjecting him to sleep deprivation. He says there is something missing from the Captain's confession but won't tell him what it is. Finally the Captain figures it out. It is nothing. The Captain has to confess to doing nothing while his buddies were interrogated by the CIA.  This "nothing" is repeated over and over as if it is some sort of great theme of the book. But the whole confession and torture is ridiculous as you will see in a moment.

Man announces that, having confessed, the Captain would be released, and so would Bon. But Bon, being an anti-communist, could never pass any of their tests, so the Captain had bought Bon's freedom and he and the Captain would be allowed to slip out of Vietnam.

Here's where the entire story stops making sense.

Man tortures the Captain to get him to confess to "nothing". He won't tell the Captain what needs to be said, forcing the Captain much pain as he tries to figure it out. Then Man tells him he has bribed some commies to buy Bon's freedom.

Well, then, if he could bribe commies to buy Bon's freedom, why couldn't he do the same for the Captain? Why the need for Man to torture the Captain at all? The answer: There was no need.

The author of this book was trying to recreate the scene from the novel 1984 where Winston Smith is tortured and forced to engage in doublethink, to brainwash himself, and to make the Captain do the same.

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