The Pulitzer Prize For Fiction

2016 - Viet Thanh Nguyen

Born: 13 March, 1971, Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Awarded for: "The Sympathizer"

Author Quote: "As Hegel said, tragedy was not the conflict between right and wrong but right and right, a dilemma none of us who wanted to participate in history could escape"

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Viet Thanh Nguyen

About Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is an American novelist. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Nguyen's debut novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among other accolades, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from an American Author from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. He received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2017.

Nguyen was born in Ban Me Thuot, Vietnam in 1971, the son of immigrants from North Vietnam who moved south in 1954. After the fall of Saigon, in 1975, his family fled to the United States. Nguyen's family first settled in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, which was one of four American camps that accommodated refugees from Vietnam. Nguyen's family then moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania until 1978.

His family later moved to San Jose, California, where they opened up a Vietnamese grocery store, one of the first of its kind in the area. While growing up in San Jose, Nguyen attended St. Patrick School, a Catholic elementary school, and went on to Bellarmine College Preparatory.

Nguyen then briefly attended the University of California Riverside and UCLA before finally deciding to finish his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, from where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in May 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in English and Ethnic Studies. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in English from Berkeley in May 1997. That year, he moved to Los Angeles for a teaching position as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California in both the English Department, and in the American Studies and Ethnicity Department. In 2003, he became an associate professor in the two departments.

In addition to teaching and writing, Nguyen also serves as cultural critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times and is an editor of diaCRITICS, a blog for the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.


The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen

By The Pie Dude

The narrator of "The Sympathizer," by Viet Thanh Nguyen is the son of a Vietnamese woman and a French priest. Sent as a young man to Occidental College in Los Angeles, he is also an expert in American Studies and speaks flawless English. After returning to Vietnam, he becomes a captain in the army serving as aide de camp to a General. Secretly he is a spy for the communist revolution. As he tells his story, from narrowly escaping Saigon with the General in 1975 to life as a refugee in Los Angeles to working as a consultant to "The Auteur" on a film about Vietnam shot in the Philippines and finally to Thailand, we discover he is actually writing his "confession" to a commandant in a prison camp back in Vietnam.

The captain's otherness allows him to see Vietnam and America with a clarity that enlightens us as readers. While much of his story is devoted to how badly Americans understood the Vietnamese people, he also skewers partisans on both sides of the divide within his home country. His encounters with military, political and academic experts of all sorts reveal the ideological blinders that shaped their beliefs and horrific violence of the war. In the end, though, the story is about his struggle to come to terms with his own participation in that violence. What he did and did not do weigh heavily on his conscience.

Though his story is a serious one, Nguyen writes with a comic touch that belies the tragedy all around. "The Sympathizer" deserves comparisons with "Catch 22" as a classic dark comedy about war.

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen

By Roger Deblanck

The emotional charge of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s extraordinary debut novel The Sympathizer will keep your heart pounding and your blood chilled. Tim O’Brien’s story collection The Things They Carried still stands as the landmark for examining the American soldier’s perspective on the Vietnam War, but Nguyen now owns the patent for his haunting insights and revelations of the Vietnamese experience from both sides of the conflict. In this case, the unnamed narrator is, indeed, the sympathizer, a Viet Cong spy with the self-proclaimed “talent” to understand all aspects of his country’s complexity and demise. Starting with his escape on one of the last flights out of Saigon to his exile in the United States, the story leads from one spellbinding adventure to another. Using an array of lenses, the narrator puts the politics, machinations, and history of the unmerciful war under intense scrutiny, and he gives the Vietnamese people their much-needed voice of identity and a deserved sense of nationality as he examines their unwavering strength and sacrifice. The narrator’s blistering honesty and keen intelligence combines sorrow and compassion with dark humor to deliver a sometimes shocking and an altogether breathtaking tale of tragedy and survival. Making the book all the more remarkable is Nguyen’s electric prose. His language has a lush and scintillating quality that makes for an unforgettable reading experience. Having won the Pulitzer, the book now has its immortality, but it’s not an exaggeration to call it a masterpiece.