BG 2 - September ‘21 Review
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Committed” is a sequel to Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer”. The books share a narrator, a Communist spy, half-Vietnamese and half-French, who refers to himself as “a man of two faces and two minds.” The man of two minds attended a lycée in Saigon, where he’d wander the streets with a French book under his arm and be racially abused by the local French “in the language of Dumas, or Stendhal, or Balzac.”
In “The Sympathizer,” the narrator had gone undercover as a refugee in Southern California after the fall of Saigon. On a mission back to Vietnam, he was captured. Both he and Bon have been traumatized by time spent in a re-education camp run by their other blood brother, Man. Bon has a gladiatorial disposition. There’s dramatic irony in the fact that he does not know Man was his Torquemada.
This new novel is set in the early 1980s, as the man of two faces flees not to America but to France. He’s survived a harrowing boat trip, and a flight from Jakarta with Bon, his “best friend and blood brother.” Their story is complicated to unwind. The man of two minds becomes a drug dealer. Thanks to the French Vietnamese woman he calls his aunt, who works in publishing, he has access to left-wing French intellectuals, who have a strong taste for his products. Infecting France with Eastern drugs is his own tidy form of payback. The heat in “The Committed,” of which there is a good deal, derives from the friction created by the narrator’s contradictory thoughts about France, his country’s colonizer. This is a book about humiliation, about repression and expression.
The group rated the book 5 out of 10.