The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is significant for a number of reasons. It is a page-turner with a definitively literary sensibility, a spy novel that doubles as a treatise on American culture and a philosophical reflection on the dynamics of power. More importantly in its context as an achievement in United States popular culture, The Sympathizer offers a Vietnamese refugee's perspective on the Vietnam War, a period in history Americans remember almost exclusively through their own narrow perspective; in the U.S., "Vietnam" is almost always a synecdoche for "The Vietnam War." One of the achievements of The Sympathizer is its power to remove this limitation in the American imagination, to restores "Vietnam" to its full meaning: a country, a people's home with a people's history.

The Sympathizer won a basketful of awards after its publication in 2015, among them the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, and the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction. Nothing Ever Dies (2016), the nonfiction counterpart to The Sympathizer, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In addition, Nguyen has recently received fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations.

We look forward to sharing this book with you! In each of four emails, which you can schedule to receive at a pace that suits your needs, you will receive:

  • A summary of a portion of the book.
  • Commentary by Julia Davis.
  • Questions for reflection and practice.
  • An invitation to journal about what you're learning.

Your guide for this exploration is Julia (Julie) Davis, who was a 2018 - 2019 fellow with The Practicing Democracy Project. Julia holds an M.A. and C.Phil. in English and American Literatures and Cultures from Brown University and a B.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara. When she created this program, she was pursuing her Master of Divinity at Claremont School of Theology with a focus on Interfaith Chaplaincy. Her interest in chaplaincy grew out of her 17 years experience teaching American literature at the college and high school level. Julia is passionate about the intersection of spiritual practices and social change.

The Sympathizer is one of twelve books included in the We the People Book Club, an opportunity to strengthen your vision of democracy by contemplating America's past and possibilities as presented by classic and contemporary literary voices. You may also be interested in the other books in this series, which are listed on the book club's webpage.

(4 CEHs for chaplains available.)

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