The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen Summary Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Sympathizer

Plot Summary Part 4

But the way this story was written it was just tedious and ultimately nonsensical. Once we learned that Bon's freedom could be bought, why did the Captain have to be tortured at all?

Anyway, what we learned from this is that just as the Captain put friendship over ideology in saving Bon, so did Man do the same by bending the rules to save Bon and the Captain. It also shows us that again that Man no longer believes in Vietnamese communism and wants to help his friends escape it. He adds that "Nothing" (that special word again!) is better than freedom and liberty, his way of saying that nothing is better than communism, which means that communism is worse than nothing. I know this sounds confusing to follow, but they talk and talk and talk for about 30 pages about this, so I figured you should know.

Click here to see the rest of this review

There is a scene where the Captain and Bon are driven out of the prison. The Captain sees other captured soldiers, who were captured because of him, stuck behind, but the Captain feels no guilt. Bon has also lost an eye but the Captain does not feel guilt either. They get out of the country with some boat people.

The end.

There were things to like about this book. It had an intellectual sense of humor which was appreciated. The character of the Captain and Man were both complex and nuanced. These were not mindless communist robots but people who did terrible things while simultaneously feeling bad about doing them.  At times we simply didn't know what the Captain would do next because he was not an easily predictable character. That was good.

At the same time the Captain's character was written too sympathetically. Sure, he felt guilty about the two men he killed. But he did kill them. Also bad: what about all the people who died on the airfield trying to escape when the Captain informed the communists of their departure plan? What about the soldiers who died trying to infiltrate Vietnam at the end of the book, who were betrayed by the Captain? The Captain does not shed a tear for them or even acknowledge his responsibility for their fates. The author tried to humanize this communist spy, but I didn't have sympathy for this character. He didn't have to kill innocent people or provide the information that led to their deaths. He had a choice, and he repeatedly chose the wrong one.

Another problem with the book is that it was very slow. The Captain made a lot of very detailed observations of people and places and some of that was interesting, but a lot of that slowed down the story. The section of the book where the Captain observed a movie being made about the Vietnam war seemed particularly extraneous and filled too large a portion of the book.  I felt like the story could have been slimmed down at least 100 pages and gotten to its destination quicker.

And finally the ending made no sense. Once we learned that Man could buy anyone's freedom, the pages and pages of torture of the Captain feels contrived and artificial. It feels like the author felt we need the torture to have dramatic tension at the end of the story, but his plotting of it did not feel remotely realistic.

Finally it felt like the ending was cut short. After all this, what did the Captain end up doing back in the US? How did he feel about communism at the end? Did he become a genuine anti-communist? The story ends too abruptly.

Click below for more about The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Plot pg1 Plot pg2 Plot pg3 Plot pg4
Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
2 Ways to Search!

Our Chief Librarian