Perverse Theaters and Refracted Histories: Violence and (Anti)realism in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s <i>The Sympathizer</i>


This paper explores the way in which Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer-prize-winning debut novel, The Sympathizer (2015) reframes history by outlining unseen continuities, reimagining the war in Vietnam as a Petri dish for America’s Forever War, as if yesterday’s wars and today’s were one the mirror of the other. The Sympathizer is not about war as much as about war narratives and the power rationales that allow for their unequal dissemination. It tackles the well-rooted idea of the Second Indochina War as a war that defies representation. In this instance, however, aesthetic (un)representability of war is not intended as a philosophical matter as much as a political issue. The question is not “Is the war in Vietnam representable?” as much as “Whose representation of the war in Vietnam gets passed down?” In other words, the issue at hand is not representability but representations. All the cultural artifacts addressing the war’s memory, in Nguyen’s view, are fabrications that convey partial perspectives. A narrative about narratives, The Sympathizer is informed by a logic according to which the only way to expose this state of things is to put together a fiction at once realist and antirealist that with its own existence single-handedly redefines collective memory as “an arena of competing narratives, an uneven field dominated by the memory machines of Hollywood” (Chattarji). By bending the facts, Nguyen brings into question the power circumstances that make misrepresentation possible. 


Viet Thanh Nguyen; The Sympathizer; Vietnamese American Literature; Vietnam War

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Published : 2023-12-29

TrainaG. (2023). Perverse Theaters and Refracted Histories: Violence and (Anti)realism in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s <i>The Sympathizer</i&gt;. Review of International American Studies, 16(2), 141-158.

Giacomo Traina
The "Sapienza" University of Rome  Italy

Giacomo Traina holds a PhD in English literatures, cultures, language and translation from Sapienza University of Rome (Italy) and the University of Silesia in Katowice (Poland). His research interests include the memory of the Vietnam War through the works of contemporary Vietnamese American authors and the narrative works of Herman Melville. He is currently working on his first monograph on the fiction of Viet Thanh Nguyen.

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