The Committed

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Hardcover, 2021

Call number

FIC NGU

Collection

Publication

Grove Press (2021), 400 pages

Description

"The astonishing sequel to The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, The Committed follows the "man of two minds" as he comes to Paris as a refugee. There he and his blood brother Bon try to escape their pasts and prepare for their futures by turning their hands to capitalism in one of its purest forms: drug dealing. No longer in physical danger, but still inwardly tortured by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, and struggling to assimilate into a dominant culture, the Sympathizer is both charmed and disturbed by Paris. As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals and politicians who frequent dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese "aunt," he finds not just stimulation for his mind but also customers for his merchandise-but the new life he is making has dangers he has not foreseen. Both literary thriller and brilliant 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"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member gbill
The Committed picks up where The Sympathizer left off, with the narrator arriving in Paris as a refugee. The ideological war between communism and capitalism is still being waged by the dispersed Vietnamese, and he also finds himself involved with a gang dealing drugs, at the risk of friction with
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Algerian immigrants. It’s an intense story peppered with sex and brutal violence, and Nguyen holds nothing back in his scathing observations about Americans, the French, and Vietnamese people. At times it seems like he’s almost trying too hard with his glib wordplay, but there is great truth in what he offers us, and it’s an intelligent work. He glides effortlessly across topics of colonialism, philosophy, religion, racism, history, and economic systems, and does so with humor mixed into things which may otherwise be too dark or dry. At times I thought he was a little repetitious, including covering plot points of the previous book too far into this one. There is something touching about the story though, through all of its violence. The narrator trying to come to terms with his countrymen (symbolized most in his two blood brothers) who have such different views, as well as his own mind which sees both sides, living in a world where he’s an outsider, and trying to heal from the deep scars of the past – it’s poignant stuff.

A few quotes:
On America and France:
“Americans loathed symbols, except for patriotic, sentimental ones like guns, flags, Mom, and apple pie, all of which the average American proclaimed he would defend to the death. One had to love such a practical, pragmatic people, impatient with interpretation, eager just to get the facts, ma’am. If one tried to interpret a movie’s deeper significance with Americans, they would reflexively claim that it was just a story. To the French, nothing was ever just a story. As for facts, the French thought them rather boring.”

On capitalism:
“Capitalists love to point out how many tens of millions have died under Stalin and Mao, all while conveniently forgetting how hundreds of millions have died under capitalism. What were colonialism and slavery but forms of capitalism? What was the genocide of the natives of the Americas but capitalism?”

On revolution:
“…when the revolutionaries take themselves too seriously, they cock their guns at the crack of a joke. Once that happens, it’s all over, the revolutionaries have become the state, the state has become repressive, and the bullets, once used against the oppressor in the name of the people, will be used against the people in their own name.”
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LibraryThing member msf59
“We were the unwanted, the unneeded, and the unseen, invisible to all but ourselves. Less than nothing, we also saw nothing as we crouched blindly in the unlit belly of our ark… Even among the unwanted there were unwanted, and at that, some of us could only laugh. “

“Politics is always
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personal, my dear, she said. That’s what makes it deadly.”

The Sympathizer returns, arriving in Paris, as a refugee, along with his blood brother, Bon. He is still struggling with the aftermath of his cruel, reeducation, and hooks up with a group of left-wing intellectuals. Unfortunately, he is also pulled into a band of Vietnamese, drug-dealers, which leads into all kinds of bloody mayhem. The Sympathizer has not escaped anything.
There is so much good writing here, plenty of introspection, along with deep looks at colonialism but these 400 pages felt like 600 pages, while I was reading it. Never-ending philosophical asides, teamed up with gruesome bouts of torture, made this an uneasy read. I loved the original novel and there are plenty of glowing reviews on this one, so you may want to judge for yourself. I remain Uncommitted.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
As much as "The Sympathizer" blew me away (I even thought it impossible for Viet Thanh Nguyen to do any better with anything that he would write after it), I stand corrected: "The Committed" is equally brilliant. The author's literary marksmanship is so precise that his arrows (be they directed at
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colonization, or racism, or capitalism, or communism, or, basically, anything) never miss and strike with the amazing effect of naked truth, ugly as it may be. He really throws caution to the wind in describing race and racism. The violence was a bit hard to read at times, but the author's dark humor and tendency for deep sarcasm helped to stomach it. The protagonist's ruminations will certainly resonate with many immigrants, and his fate - with his "my/myself/I" mind that he cannot seem to get unified - makes for a truly compelling story. And just as in his previous book, I found myself concerned with not missing a single sentence... A novel that is stunning and gripping in a very poignant way.
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LibraryThing member write-review
The Cleaved Mind

The Sympathizer has returned, now in the Paris of 1981, as burdened as ever with his many dualities and in an even greater state of confusion. He reunited with his blood brother Bon, after writing endlessly in his other blood brother’s reeducation camp, Man. With these two as men
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to whom you have committed yourself, Bon the committed communist killer and Man the committed communist commissar, it’s no wonder No Name exists in a constant state of confusion dosed variously with nihilism, absurdism, and good old existentialism. Remember that No Name himself was so committed to communism and the North’s cause that he worked undercover as a spy in the ARVN, following the General to the U.S., where he continued. Yet, this level of commitment proved inadequate; thus reeducation camp.

In Paris, Bon and he settle into a life of crime, the kind of business available to outcasts like Vietnamese, as well as Algerians and Arabs, the victims all of French colonialism, and, of course, distinctive in hues of yellow and brown. You can’t get lower than No Name, as exemplified by his job in the worse Asian restaurant in Paris, as toilet cleaner. He does, however, pull himself up with the indirect help of his sophisticated committed communist aunt, who intellectualizes with French socialists who enjoy French capitalism; he becomes their drug supplier, building his book of business with his Chinese gang. Three things readers will find in abundance: blood and guts, as in wholesale bloodbaths; sex, sexual longing, sexual musing, sexual objectification, and sexual debauchery; and political philosophizing, as in Camus, Sartre, and Fanon, revolving around the destructiveness of colonialism and the oppression imposed by victorious revolutionaries. Readers will encounter lots of the latter, but don’t despair, because No Name has developed a very sharp sense of black humor that makes your reeducation go down easier than Man’s brand.

Speaking of Man, he returns on a fated mission that serves to drive up No Name’s angst levels. Bon knows Man’s coming, and Bon has committed to killing him. No Name has the opposite commitment, keep Man alive, and hope two closely held secrets aren’t revealed. No Name has no luck on that score, and Viet treats readers to an ambiguous ending. You get the feeling he’s not done with No Name, as new unfinished business arises at the end.

As good as The Sympathizer, but with more action, humor, and sex, and better than most novels you’ll read this year, and that’s saying a lot, since the year is still young.
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LibraryThing member browner56
In The Committed, Viet Thanh Nguyen gives us a second volume of the “confessions” of an unnamed Vietnamese national who served both sides during the war and is now exiled in France trying to reconcile his past and plot out his future. As a sequel to The Sympathizer, the author’s Pulitzer
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Prize-winning debut novel, this volume continues the initial framing device that the narrator is burdened with the ability to see every position of any conflict—to sympathize with both sides, in fact—to the extent that he actually views himself as two different people. A central theme of this extension is that the “screw” in the narrator’s head keeping the two sides apart is gradually loosening to the point where he can no longer separate them.

Whereas the first book of confessions was panoramic in scope and covered a plethora of events that took place in multiple countries over an extended period, the action in The Committed is more narrowly focused on brief window of time when the narrator finds himself working in Paris as a drug dealer for a newly formed organized crime operation. This becomes an important distinction because, while it deals with many of the same important issues as the first volume (e.g., the adverse effects of colonialism, cultural ambiguity, immigration, political commitment), it lacks much of the original’s dark humor and the action portrayed in the sequel is not nearly as interesting or engaging. Stated a little more plainly, the new book works far less well as spy novel/thriller than its predecessor.

The more I read this book, the more I found myself disappointed by it. To be sure, Nguyen is a very talented writer with a wonderfully creative imagination. However, the level of philosophical discourse embedded in this story—which ranged from diatribes against colonial oppression to the communism vs. capitalism debate to the nature of loyalty and commitment—was so heavy handed that it thwarted the impact of an already thin plotline. Also, the stylistic decision to switch the narration from the first person to a second person version of the same individual (presumably done to emphasize the protagonist’s split personality) was clunky and ended up being quite grating. Finally, the story relies so completely on the reader’s understanding of events from the first book that it is difficult to regard it as a fully stand-alone work. Unfortunately, then, it is not possible for me to recommend this novel to anyone who has not already read and enjoyed The Sympathizer.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
This follow-up to “The Sympathizer” is another crime novel filled with lots of ideas that focus in large measure on the complex legacy of the Vietnam experience. Along with his blood brother, Bon, Nguyen’s protagonist has fled Vietnam for his father’s homeland. They are now refugees in
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Paris. His former choices, both good and bad, don’t seem to matter much here where moral ambiguity is so prevalent. His Parisian setting gives Nguyen a platform to highlight the crime, violence, racism, prostitution, and drugs so prevalent in the West under capitalism while also questioning the oppression and brutalization of the Vietnamese people under French colonialism, the American intervention, and the Communist regime. Clearly, he sees both capitalism and communism as deeply flawed ideologies with little to offer but war and cruelty.

The Sympathizer and his blood brother, Bon, crash with his French Vietnamese aunt (really no relation) only to be introduced to her intellectual friends and to the French underworld with jobs at “the worst Asian restaurant in Paris.” Since the latter is really only a front for illegal drug dealing, the refugees are enlisted to develop a new clientele among his “aunt’s” intellectual acquaintances. Of course, this leads to the classical drug turf war and the usual violence that comes along with it. The plot is highly convoluted, frequently odd, incredibly violent, and often quite opaque, but Nguyen redeems it with lots of dark comedy that drips with irony.

Indeed, the thriller aspect of the novel is not really very prominent. Instead, Nguyen devotes large amounts of space to French philosophy and his protagonist’s questioning of his own commitments and betrayals. Notwithstanding markedly slowing the pace, these digressions give the novel a literary power absent in most crime genre fiction. Matters include his secret role as a communist spy, his torture at the hands of another friend in a post-war reeducation camp, his identity as an Asian minority, and especially his betrayal of Bon, a staunch anti-communist who lost his wife and child in the war.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
The powerful sequel to The Sympathizers continues the unreliable narrator’s story after he left America and moved to Paris. Along with his blood brother, Bon, who does not know Vo Danh was a North Vietnamese double agent in America. Bon cannot stand the Communists and so Vo Danh hopes his past
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remains a secret. Living at his “aunt’s” apartment, he and Bon find unsavory employment with the Boss. There are plenty of hair-raising adventures, along with the more pleasant adventures learning to live in Paris and reconnect with other Vietnamese refugees. Although a sequel, the book is also a standalone because Nguyen weaves what the reader needs to know about past happenings into the story. What stood out to me was how Vo Danh was more worried about the failures of capitalism than the drug world in which they were employed.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
The Committed, a sequel to Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Sympathizer, picks up in the 80's where the narrator has graduated from his reeducation camp and now tries to get by in the criminal underworld of Paris by selling drugs to rich aristocrats and intellectuals. I loved the first novel and
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admire this one but have to admit that the political explorations are less engaging than the first. The "narrative threads that carry us through the major political, economic and societal aftershocks of late 19th-century colonial expansion: capitalism, the rise of communism, immigration, assimilation, hypercapitalism, religious extremism."(Guardian) are a bit long winded. The writing however continues to be both funny and fascinating. The main character's relationship with Bon and Man, continue to develop from the first novel. The three are promised blood brothers who years later wind up on very different political sides with our narrator in the middle trying to prevent them from killing each other. The novel's ending leaves room for yet another exploration into half-Vietnamese and half-French, narrator who is a communist spy and refers to himself as “a man of two faces and two minds." Nguyen is an important, intelligent author. I should look into his other works.

Lines
I held on to the leather bag for this same nostalgic reason. Even though it was not very large, the bag, like Bon’s, was not full. Like most refugees we barely had any material belongings, even if our bags were packed with dreams and fantasies, trauma and pain, sorrow and loss, and, of course, ghosts. Since ghosts were weightless, we could carry an infinite number of them.

As for America, just think of Coca-Cola. That elixir is really something, embodying as it does the addictive, teeth-decaying sweetness of a capitalism that was no good for you no matter how it fizzled on the tongue.

When I explained that the luwak, the civet cat, ate the raw beans and excreted them, its intestines supposedly fermenting the beans in a gastronomic way, she burst out laughing, which rather hurt. Kopi luwak was very expensive, especially for refugees like us, and if there was anything that the French should love, it should have been civet-percolated coffee.

They, too, wore shirts and slacks and had arms, legs, and eyes as I did. But while we shared the same elements that made us human, they were clearly filet mignon, rare and perfectly seared, while I was boiled organ meat, most likely intestine.

Over the next few weeks, I made my deliveries with the nonchalant air of the law-abiding citizen, assured in the knowledge that the police tended not to look twice at Asians, or so Le Cao Boi had reassured me. At the restaurant, he pointed to how the Arabs and the blacks did us the unintentional favor of being our racial decoys, drawing the attention of police who thought them to be as brown, sticky, and aromatic as hashish itself.

To drink whiskey, in sufficient quantities, regardless of sufficient quality, is to polish the fuzzy mirror of one’s self and to adjust, in the manner of an optometrist, the focus of one’s lenses.

Organized religion was the first and greatest protection racket, an economy of perpetual profit built on voluntary fear and coerced guilt. Donating money to churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, cults, et cetera, to help ensure a spot for one’s soul in the express elevator to that penthouse in the sky known as the afterlife was marketing genius!

He opened the tin to reveal the sweetest cookie of all, the ultimate male prosthesis, a perpetually hard gun capable of rapid-fire ejaculation.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
Well, I read The Sympathizer in just a few days, couldn't put it down - this follow up was different but I can't really explain how - just that it felt like it took me forever to finish and really, by the end I was skimming.Well, I read The Sympathizer in just a few days, couldn't put it down -
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this follow up was different but I can't really explain how - just that it felt like it took me forever to finish and really, by the end I was skimming.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This book is a follow up to Nguyen's 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Symphathizer". The book takes place in Paris in 1982 and the unnamed narrator is the one from the first book. He is a Vietnamese double agent who went through much during the Vietnam war. Nguyen weaves a lot of the
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backstory into this book and given that I read the first book 5 years ago, I did get enough from the backstory to understand the plot of this book. In Paris the narrator gets involved with drug dealing and trying to deal with his French(his father was French) and Vietnamese background. The book is filled with lots of long diatribes about colonialism, communism, capitalism, and the French. The author is an excellent writer but the book does drag a bit and the plot was not "thrilling" but a bit cartoonish and violent. It does have great value in presenting the historical backdrop to Viet Nam and to the exploitation of the 3rd world. I did enjoy "The Sympahizer" more than this book and would recommend that one as the one to read.
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LibraryThing member write-review
The Cleaved Mind

The Sympathizer has returned, now in the Paris of 1981, as burdened as ever with his many dualities and in an even greater state of confusion. He reunited with his blood brother Bon, after writing endlessly in his other blood brother’s reeducation camp, Man. With these two as men
Show More
to whom you have committed yourself, Bon the committed communist killer and Man the committed communist commissar, it’s no wonder No Name exists in a constant state of confusion dosed variously with nihilism, absurdism, and good old existentialism. Remember that No Name himself was so committed to communism and the North’s cause that he worked undercover as a spy in the ARVN, following the General to the U.S., where he continued. Yet, this level of commitment proved inadequate; thus reeducation camp.

In Paris, Bon and he settle into a life of crime, the kind of business available to outcasts like Vietnamese, as well as Algerians and Arabs, the victims all of French colonialism, and, of course, distinctive in hues of yellow and brown. You can’t get lower than No Name, as exemplified by his job in the worse Asian restaurant in Paris, as toilet cleaner. He does, however, pull himself up with the indirect help of his sophisticated committed communist aunt, who intellectualizes with French socialists who enjoy French capitalism; he becomes their drug supplier, building his book of business with his Chinese gang. Three things readers will find in abundance: blood and guts, as in wholesale bloodbaths; sex, sexual longing, sexual musing, sexual objectification, and sexual debauchery; and political philosophizing, as in Camus, Sartre, and Fanon, revolving around the destructiveness of colonialism and the oppression imposed by victorious revolutionaries. Readers will encounter lots of the latter, but don’t despair, because No Name has developed a very sharp sense of black humor that makes your reeducation go down easier than Man’s brand.

Speaking of Man, he returns on a fated mission that serves to drive up No Name’s angst levels. Bon knows Man’s coming, and Bon has committed to killing him. No Name has the opposite commitment, keep Man alive, and hope two closely held secrets aren’t revealed. No Name has no luck on that score, and Viet treats readers to an ambiguous ending. You get the feeling he’s not done with No Name, as new unfinished business arises at the end.

As good as The Sympathizer, but with more action, humor, and sex, and better than most novels you’ll read this year, and that’s saying a lot, since the year is still young.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Having read and enjoyed Nguyen's prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer, I looked forward to reading his new novel. In it, once again the reader is presented with a unique mix of realistic action and superb emotional detail. The author also includes literary and philosophical references like the
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comment at one of his aunt's salons, "God is dead. Marx is dead., and I don't feel so well myself," - a rare bit of levity in what is otherwise a very serious tale.

It is a tale narrated with the same memorable voice as the previous novel, The Committed follows the unnamed Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris in the early 1980s with his blood brother Bon. He says "our bags were packed with dreams and fantasies, trauma and pain, sorrow and loss, and, of course, ghosts. Since ghosts were weightless we could carry an infinite number of them." (p 5) 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. In his attempts to deal with his ghosts he acquires lessons from a coterie of left-wing intellectuals whom he meets at dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese "aunt." Through these he experiences stimulation for his mind but also customers for his narcotic merchandise. Strewn throughout the novel are references from the works of Sartre, Fanon, Kristeva, and de Beauvoir, and these are in addition to his interactions with the drug-dealing crime boss he works for in Paris. 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. Its intensity was sometimes difficult to consider, but necessary to maintain the idea of what his new life meant to him. This novel maintained my interest and left me looking forward to a potential third novel by this outstanding author.
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LibraryThing member bookomaniac
I don't doubt he can write, this Nguyen, for sure, but his show off-prose really isn't my thing. I gave it 100 pages. Perhaps it was me, but this was really boring. Did not finish, so no rating.
LibraryThing member RickGeissal
Just as with his first, and Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer, this novel is brilliantly created, conceived, drawn and executed. I loved it. Most characters are Vietnamese, Vietnamese-French or Vietnamese-American, the setting is Paris, and the protagonist is - or was - a spy. The
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author is a genius.
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LibraryThing member banjo123
In this book; Nguyen takes on the French. The book takes place in Paris; with gangsters, drug-dealers, etc, and at points a bit too violent for me. Overall, however, I liked it. Here's a favorite quote:

"that's what nobody tells you about the afterlife. It smells like rotten mean and putric water
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and black mold."
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ISBN

0802157068 / 9780802157065
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