Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Sentence: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.  Note: I'm breaking my own no-commentary rule this week.  The Sympathizer won't be released until next Spring, but I urge you to pre-order it once it becomes available.  The novel begins in 1975 just as Saigon is about to fall.  As Viet Thanh Nguyen describes it at his website: "Black comedy, historical novel, and literary thriller, The Sympathizer follows a nameless spy who has infiltrated the South Vietnamese army and flees with its remnants to America.  His mission: report on their efforts to continue their lost war.  As the aide to a general who refuses to admit defeat, he observes the struggles of the Vietnamese refugees to survive in a melancholic Los Angeles."  I was privileged to read an advance copy of the novel.  Here's part of what I said about it in the blurb I provided to the publisher: "Who would have thought the fall of Saigon could be so hilarious?  The Sympathizer is like a neon-pink whoopee cushion snuck into a high-level State Department briefing.  Go ahead, laugh.  Viet Thanh Nguyen has given us permission to see both the light and dark sides of a regretful chapter in the histories of both the United States and Vietnam in a tale told by a court jester."  Read below for this week's dazzling, Faulknerian sentence.

We could not forget the caramel flavor of iced coffee with coarse sugar; the bowls of noodle soup eaten while squatting on the sidewalk; the strumming of a friend’s guitar while we swayed on hammocks under coconut trees; the football matches played barefoot and shirtless in alleys, squares, parks, and meadows; the pearl chokers of morning mist draped around the mountains; the labial moistness of oysters shucked on a gritty beach; the whisper of a dewy lover saying the most seductive words in our language, anh oi; the rattle of rice being threshed; the workingmen who slept in their cyclos on the streets, kept warm only by the memories of their families; the refugees who slept on every sidewalk of every city; the slow burning of patient mosquito coils; the sweetness and firmness of a mango plucked fresh from its tree; the girls who refused to talk to us and who we only pined for more; the men who had died or disappeared; the streets and homes blown away by bombshells; the streams where we swam naked and laughing; the secret grove where we spied on the nymphs who bathed and splashed with the innocence of the birds; the shadows cast by candlelight on the walls of wattled huts; the atonal tinkle of cowbells on mud roads and country paths; the barking of a hungry dog in an abandoned village; the appetizing reek of the fresh durian one wept to eat; the sight and sound of orphans howling by the dead bodies of their mothers and fathers; the stickiness of one’s shirt by afternoon, the stickiness of one’s lover by the end of lovemaking, the stickiness of our situations; the frantic squealing of pigs running for their lives as villagers gave chase; the hills afire with sunset; the crowned head of dawn rising from the sheets of the sea; the hot grasp of our mother’s hand; and while the list could go on and on and on, the point was simply this: the most important thing we could never forget was that we could never forget.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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