The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

March 2021, no. 429

Viet Thanh Nguyen arrived in the United States in 1975 as a four-year-old Vietnamese refugee. He is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a professor of English and of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, and a contributing writer to The New York Times who has devoted much of his working life to Vietnamese-American history. A related topic that he writes and speaks about is ‘narrative scarcity’, the fact that if you belong to a minority group, none of the stories you read is about you or the importance of those groups being given the opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words. That is just what Nguyen has done in his first novel, The Sympathizer, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and its sequel, The Committed. Though many American novelists have written about the Vietnam War, he is one of the first Vietnamese-American writers to do so.

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Louise Erdrich would never write again. The National Book Award-winning author was bereft of ideas and exhausted by a tenacious winter virus. She surrendered to sleep, heavy with the certainty that her literary career was over. ‘Hours later, I was jolted awake by some mysterious flow of information,’ Erdrich explains in the afterword of her new novel, The Night Watchman, a glorious rebuke to her fever-addled defeatism. A message beat in her brain: go back to the beginning. ‘I made myself a shaky cup of tea,’ she writes, ‘and then, as I’ve done so many times in my life, I began to read letters written the year I was born, my grandfather’s letters.’

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