The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
In addition to the story of the divided political and personal sympathies with which our protagonist must deal, we learn that he is a man of divided sympathies because of the circumstances of both his birth and his cultural upbringing. As the bastard son of a French priest and a devout Asian mother, he is a conflicted cross of East and West, an outcast in his own society without a way to reconcile his divergent racial origins and cultural experiences, unable to form a settled self-identity and to see the world from but one point of view. All of this fracturing makes for a character who is able to comment--trenchantly and satirically--upon the divide and misapprehensions between East and West, between America and Vietnam, even as he himself is ground up both politically and morally in the confrontation.
One reviewer has called The Sympathizer a novel of “breathtaking cynicism,” and in his review in the New York Times, Philip Caputo describes the concluding chapters of the novel as an “absurdist tour de force” that he finds akin to Kafka or Genet. There is certainly much bitterness here, and the satire is scathing. But the The Sympathizer is, fundamentally, a moral novel, one that explores the nature of the personal and existential in relationship to the political, and the choices of action we take when we are witness to---and participants in--- the intimate horrors humans inflict on each other in service of compelling personal and political passions. The themes explored here transcend the story line; they are perennial and universal and, therefore---we dare not forget---contemporary. The daemon that hovers over this ambitious, angry and unsettling novel is Camus.