cover image The Committed

The Committed

Viet Thanh Nguyen. Grove, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5706-5

The sequel to Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Sympathizer is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with violence, hidden identity, and meditations on whether the colonized can ever be free. The fractured, guilt-ridden narrator, a veteran of the South Vietnamese Army, where he was a mole for the communists, goes by his assumed name Vo Danh, which means “nameless.” He has survived reeducation and a refugee camp and is now living in early 1980s Paris, along with his devoutly anti-communist “blood brother,” Bon, who doesn’t know he was a double agent. Vo Danh starts selling hashish for a Viet-Chinese drug lord called the Boss, whom he and Bon met in their refugee camp. The gig has him more vexed about the crime of capitalism than that of drug dealing, and he’s not expecting a turf war. Indeed, he’s chagrined to discover his rivals, French Arabs who share with him a legacy of colonization, want him dead. Meanwhile, there are opportunity for socializing, revenge, and reunions at the Vietnamese Union. The book works both as sequel and standalone, with Nguyen careful to fold in needed backstory, and the author’s wordplay continues to scratch at the narrator’s fractured sense of self (“I am not just one but two. Not just I but you. Not just me but we”). Pleasures abound, such as the narrator’s hair-raising escapes, descriptions of the Boss’s hokey bar (“This was the new and modern Orient, where opium was both cool and quaint, chic and cute, addictive and undemanding”), and thoughtful references to Fanon and Césaire. Nguyen continues to delight. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Mar.)