The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Three

The 2016 Tournament of Books - Day Three

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen vs. Oreo by Fran Ross

First of all, these are two books that I really loved. It's an interesting matchup because both books feature protagonists who are of mixed race descent and the narratives are in part about them navigating what that means in interesting ways.

The Sympathizer is a spy novel in the mold of Graham Greene about a Vietnamese-French man who is a soldier in South Vietnam - and is a spy for North Vietnam. The opening section details the man and others as the escape from Saigon the day that the city falls, and get onto the last plane out. Then in Southern California he gets involved with various plots to return to Vietnam and retake the country, all the while reporting back to his handler.

It's also a book about the abuse of power - and shows the hypocrisy and corruption on all sides and it shifts the perspective of the war. We're so used to talking about the war in terms of the United States. In terms of the approximately 58,000 Americans who lost their lives and not the 3 million Vietnamese who lost their lives. It's a book about war and immigration, storytelling and who gets to tell the stories. About the tension between ideology and identity - which is not tied to this war but is ongoing.

Note: I did conduct The Rumpus Interview with Nguyen last year (available here for those interested:
Oreo is a book that I love but it's not an easy book to describe. It's about a young woman of mixed race descent who goes looking for her father. There are a lot of explicit and subtle mythological allusions. Some of it is fantastic and bizarre. Some of it is laugh out loud funny. Some of it is just weird. There are postmodern tricks and different approaches and digressions to the story. It is a work of genius. The fact that this was published in 1974 and disappeared is a tragedy. Of course it's also such a strange book that I can't help but think that we read it more easily today.

Of course, Oreo was also published 40+ years ago. I'm not sure why it's in the tournament given that, but if it gets more people reading it, then I say it's definitely worth it. It's an amazing book. I do have to give the prize to The Sympathizer, though. There are a few rough patches, in part I think due to it being a first novel, but overall it's a brilliant, moving and important read.

Winner: The Sympathizer

Over at the Tournament: The Sympathizer wins!

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