Equal parts Ellison’s Invisible Man and Chang-rae Lee’s Henry Park, Nguyen’s nameless narrator is a singular literary creation, a complete original ... The Committed indulges in espionage high jinks aplenty, but in truth the author is not as interested in them as a cursory plot summary might indicate. Nguyen is no le Carré and doesn’t wish to be. The novel draws its true enchantment — and its immense power — from the propulsive, wide-ranging intelligence of our narrator as he Virgils us through his latest descent into hell. That he happens to be as funny as he is smart is the best plus of all.
The novel is [...] a homecoming of a particularly volatile sort, a tale of chickens returning to roost, and of a narrator not yet done with the world ... Nguyen [...] is driven to raptures of expression by the obliviousness of the self-satisfied; he relentlessly punctures the self-image of French and American colonizers, of white people generally, of true believers and fanatics of every stripe. This mission drives the rhetorical intensity that makes his novels so electric. It has nothing to do with plot or theme or character ... That voice has made Nguyen a standard-bearer in what seems to be a transformational moment in the history of American literature, a perspectival shift ... It’s a voice that shakes the walls of the old literary comfort zone wherein the narratives of nonwhite 'immigrants' were tasked with proving their shared humanity to a white audience ... May that voice keep running like a purifying venom through the mainstream of our self-regard—through the American dream of distancing ourselves from what we continue to show ourselves to be.
The first 100 pages of The Committed are, to my mind, better than anything in the first novel. The narrator’s voice snaps you up. It’s direct, vain, cranky and slashing — a voice of outraged intelligence. It’s among the more memorable in recent American literature ... subtly draws upon the mythic power France once held for Black Americans ... [Nguyen's] sentences, as they heat, expand. He lets them run riot. Some cover multiple pages, building to towering peaks. When these arias work, they’re ecstatic. When they don’t, one recalls Capote on Kerouac: 'That’s not writing, that’s typing' ... The overwriting in this novel only rarely bothered me. More often I was reminded of George Balanchine’s comment that if his dancers didn’t occasionally fall onstage, they weren’t really going for it ... The second half of this book is shaggy, shaggy, shaggy. If it’s not a total breakdown, it’s something close ... This is a bookish novel. It’s the kind in which a bouncer at a brothel reads Voltaire ... Tragedy and comedy blend awkwardly in this novel’s second half. Nguyen can be very funny ... Nguyen consigns his characters to a series of frazzled, far-fetched scenarios. Mayhem feeds mayhem. There are several extended torture scenes in the back half of this book that don’t work at all ... Nguyen doesn’t find a tone for these scenes. They’re awful in their way — there are rubber hoses and electrodes clamped onto nipples — but they’re hard to take seriously. There’s a daft James Bond quality to them. The torturers fritter their time away, long enough for the tortured to be rescued. Doors are kicked open with a bang; guns blaze. You sense the author trying to keep the plot frantically spinning, rather than elegantly extending his themes ... Nguyen’s cynical humor just saves him ... This novel doesn’t hold together, but it’s more serious and more entertaining than nine-tenths of the novels that do. Its narrator wants redress for the wrongs of history, but he also wants to live in the imperative tense ... As you can tell, I’m of two minds about The Committed. I’ll put my feelings this way, borrowing something the English writer Jonathan Coe said about Fedora, Billy Wilder’s penultimate film: 'Flawed and bonkers, but I like it.'
In this sequel to The Sympathizer—his cerebral Pulitzer Prize–winning thriller—Nguyen turns his exacting eye and wit toward 1980s France, critiquing the ways the nation fails to grapple with its colonial past and struggles to integrate minorities ... Despite its abundance of critical theory, The Committed is anything but didactic. At times, it veers into the scatological, as in a running gag about the state of the toilet the narrator cleans in the worst Asian restaurant in Paris and the hilariously disgusting way he diverts the attention of a mistress to the Boss, a crime mogul ... Nguyen playfully subverts the tropes of crime novels, their stylized sex and violence ... Recently, French politicians and intellectuals warned that imported American progressive ideals threaten the country’s national unity, highlighting the ways the cultural questions raised in The Committed remain far from settled ... [A] trenchant novel.
... a dense book, full of lengthy debates between the characters ... It is, in short, an unashamedly political novel of the kind that has been out of fashion for several decades ... a political novel that anyone who is part of a colonising or colonised nation – and that includes, of course, America – should read. It is an invitation to the reader to think, not just to feel: to think deeply about political systems and ideologies, whose interests they serve and what, if any, answers they can provide ... Nguyen is a craftsman. A fight scene in which a man is strangled is written as one breathless sentence several pages long. Later, he effectively deploys the dissociative implications of the second person in a scene of mental breakdown. And then there’s the humour ... a political novel comes in the guise of a thriller ... I wondered, as I was reading it, whether I would have enjoyed it as much had I not read The Sympathizer first. The answer is this. On its own The Committed is a rich and valuable read, but together withThe Sympathizer, it amounts to much more than the sum of its parts. These two novels constitute a powerful challenge to an enduring narrative of colonialism and neo-colonialism. One waits to see what Nguyen, and the man of two faces, will do next.
With smoke-and-mirrors panache, The Committed continues the travails of our Eurasian Ulysses ... From a satirical James Bond-esque spy story in The Sympathizer, the author shifts to James Baldwin's intersectional politics in The Committed to address greed, prejudice, and violence ... The Committed's revolutionary core is its plasticity — a novel of ideas that continuously shapeshifts to question its raison d'être ... Nguyen's decision not to put diacritical marks on his Vietnamese characters' names enhances the novel's paradoxes and allows it to gain multivalent, poetic meanings across languages.
As with The Sympathizer , Vo’s motivation to protect his best friend, Bon, from discovering his communist identity serves as the primary tension that heightens throughout the novel. The plot is elusive. And, yet still, a lot happens. We finally get to meet Vo’s aunt (who is really Man’s aunt), a sophisticated literary editor who takes a shine to Vo’s confessional manuscript ... Mostly, we are in Vo’s head amid a lot of violence that surrounds such a profession. It’s important to note that Vo is not well. Torture and murder have made Vo crazy. A mental puddle, Vo is prone to cry over minor troubles, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. We are deep in Vo’s perspective and, as the novel progresses, his analytical mind dissects Marxist theory, communism, philosophy, and his failure as a revolutionary. For the philosophically minded, this is a treat ... It is to Nguyen’s credit that Vo is both incredibly likeable, funny, wise to a certain unstable degree, while remaining entirely unhinged. It’s fun. Vo explains his feelings with acute awareness, which avoids feeling like we’re trapped in a narrative of asylum ... Loose and unsteady, Vo no longer has a plan or agenda, and the shift on his mental state is seen in the prose. Somehow, the novel feels softer. The writing is confident, but less tense. It’s a pleasure. Compared with The Sympathizer , a book that had me on the edge of my seat, The Committed feels more like storytelling, a gripping story at that too.
[Vo Danh's] roiling, pox-on-both-their-houses cynicism often comes across like bits from a stand-up comedy routine ... The funny, excoriating voice delivering these observations has lost none of its energy since The Sympathizer. What has changed is the balance between action and ideas. The plot of The Committed, which mostly dwells on Vo Danh’s misadventures with the mafia, has no specific grounding in historical events and often seems incidental to its protagonist’s intellectual evolution. Postcolonial and critical race theories exist in the underpinnings of The Sympathizer; now they have come to the surface, sometimes in ham-handed ways ... The biting back and forth of this double-edged novel remains a thrill and a provocation, but there are aspects of The Committed that seem written for the Academy.
The plot of The Committed is action-packed with sex, drugs and violence, but those events don't characterize the essence of the book. The strength of this novel is the same as that of its predecessor — the probing, sensitive, educated and droll mind of its narrator, who perceives power dynamics that few examine ... With The Committed, Nguyen has once again animated the complexity of a refugee's situation and plunged into a thicket of thorny matters of politics, nationality, race and identity, but has done so with characteristic heart, style and good humor that will leave readers both schooled and entertained.
There’s a deliciously complex irony to this development, as there is in so much of Nguyen’s fiction ... Nguyen takes those Vietnamese to the dark heart of their postcolonial turmoil—and at the same time again denies Americans the spotlight we so love to hog. America simply isn’t where the action is. The American Dream, the narrator opines, is 'as shallow, boring, and sentimental as a bad television show that had somehow become a hit.' But oh, France! ... Nguyen’s narrator now considers himself fractured into at least three parts. Before, he was just two, as a result of being the illegitimate son of a Vietnamese orphan and a Catholic priest ... Absolutism is always reductive, and therefore, like the inability to sympathize with one’s enemies, is an anathema to art. While the Captain has a bit of a feminist awakening in The Committed , he is mostly a cynic, and he has been ever since The Sympathizer . This is the heart of his charm, which in this reader’s opinion is more potent than that of the French. I could never entirely believe the Captain as an ardent communist, and in The Committed , he is free to let his sardonic flag fly. He’s at his funniest when pointing out the absurdities around him.
Nguyen’s narrator is forensically devastating on the evasiveness of white privilege and the infinitely receding horizon of racial assimilation ... The criminal underworld of 1980s Paris provides the backdrop for a number of brilliant set-pieces in this metaphysical thriller in which Nguyen both feeds off and subverts received images of violence ... The satire throughout is abrasive and unrelenting ... Nguyen does not always avoid the pitfalls of a certain didacticism in these moments, the telling badgering the showing, and occasionally falls victim to Tripadvisor truisms about French culture (hygiene, taxes) that can feel tired. But these are minor faults in the context of a novel that is conclusive evidence of Nguyen’s standing as one of the most distinctive and committed voices writing in English today.
Nguyen is a perceptive, scathing, and genuinely funny writer, qualities which suffused The Sympathizer and are somewhat more unevenly on display here. Other artists (Marie NDiaye, Michael Haneke, Kamel Daoud) who have explored the long and brutal legacy of the French Empire have done it more subtly and to more devastating effect. In comparison, the captain’s observations as he arrives to his new place of refuge feel, well, American: obvious and somewhat oversimplified. There are near-constant comparisons between the two countries’ ways of doing colonialism. I felt a little like I was reading Adam Gopnik if he’d been sent to a reeducation camp and forced to mainline Fanon. What these observations are not, though, is sanitized or sentimental. There are no rose-colored glasses to be found here ... Nguyen accurately and convincingly depicts a city that both leans on and marginalizes its immigrant and refugee populations ... The insistence on cycling between pronouns to depict this disintegration often feels more like a gimmick than a convincing literary device. Still, Crazy Bastard remains a fascinating narrator ... the furious pace of this novel rarely let up ... There is almost no respite from this, and thus almost no room for the reader to feel the full weight of the horror that underlies this world ... The moments of pause, when they do come, testify powerfully to this reverberating violence, and to Nguyen’s considerable skills as a novelist.
A narrator this good can take a novel anywhere ... Shifting from spy thriller to gangster flick, and from Southern California to Paris, makes sense for a sequel, but these choices are justified by the history of the Vietnamese diaspora. The crime story is less satisfying—more post-Tarantino indie-film pastiche than the gangster we are still all looking for—but the change in setting is the key to the book ... don’t let the displays of erudition intimidate you, because its most profound questions, about forgiveness and power and commitment, are ones that every reader already knows intimately ... What worked so well in The Sympathizer still works in The Committed because of their picaresque spirit—they feel like endlessly extendable collections of set pieces—but there are limits. By placing him in a satire of the priapic arrogance of 1980s French intellectuals, for example, The Committed exposes the narrator’s own vacuous sexism, which can’t be laughed off. Nguyen recognizes this, but a proper reckoning for his character is not really possible ... Worse, this leads you to realize that back with Ellison in the novel’s family tree are a stack of those tediously clever white-boy novels you stopped reading after finishing your English major, and never missed ... Nonetheless...The Committed arrives at a conclusion that’s narratively original, intellectually satisfying, and emotionally powerful.
Mr. Nguyen explores many dichotomies in this book, from different interpretations of 'committed'—commitment to a cause, the possibility of committing suicide—to the clash between capitalism and communism ... The richness of this book comes from its quieter moments and observations about politics and colonialism. The narrator offers cultural commentary throughout ... a thriller, but of the intellectual sort ... For the most part, the novel is a smart take on past events relevant to today’s struggles.
If you read The Sympathizer, you’ll immediately recognize this ironic and endlessly conflicted voice. If you haven’t read The Sympathizer, you’ll be hopelessly lost, so don’t even think of jumping in here. The setting and action of this second book are different, but The Committed is so dependent on earlier relationships and plot details that these two novels are more like volumes of the same continuing story ... Just as The Sympathizer transformed the hulk of an old spy novel, The Committed does the same with a tale of noir crime ... 'The French and the Vietnamese shared a love for melancholy and philosophy,' the narrator says, 'that the manically optimistic Americans could never understand.' The same hurdle will challenge American readers of The Committed, which is heavily fortified with philosophical rumination. In this novel, even the whorehouse bouncer reads Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire. If the man’s size doesn’t scare you away from the pleasures within, his bookshelf might.
Nguyen once more trades in genre staples — crime fiction and gangster drama get particularly juicy play here — but he's more dedicated than ever to the ideas behind them, the psychological experience of a life lived as haunted by war, colonization, disenfranchisement, and lies ... To be sure, the Vietnamese-American author's rangy gifts reemerge in another exceptionally rendered treatise on identity and trauma. But the effort here shows; there's more attempted by way of style and substance than, frankly, could ever realistically be achieved. In the end, the keen insights, caustic comedy, and thrilling formal confidence remain — but clunky, convoluted plotting gets in the way. It's an original, all right, but not quite at the level of the original.
... contains brilliant writing, perverse insights and Tarantino-esque action sequences. Its wit is bitter; its pain is palpable. But it’s also less fluid in feel than The Sympathizer, as though its narrator — rather than being a fully animated and unpredictable character — is now a useful construct on which Nguyen can hang intellectual concepts ... Nguyen leavens his narrator’s grim outlook some scathing humor ... There’s a mordant appeal to these proceedings, and the writing can be brilliant. Still, gangsters, drug deals, femmes fatales and shootouts aren’t always as interesting as the divided sympathies and warring convictions that powered Nguyen’s remarkable debut ... a worthy read, even it falls short of the impact of its predecessor. Newcomers to Nguyen should also be aware that, as hard as Nguyen works to backfill details, they’ll need to read the first book to grasp what’s at stake in the second.
Nguyen’s erudite narrator...is a vehicle for the author’s deep knowledge of philosophical and social history ... the narration forms a useful corrective for pervasive Western narratives of Southeast Asian experience, though this sometimes occurs at the expense of the narrative’s forward momentum. The danger with novels of ideas is that the ideas threaten to suffocate the novel; in the case of The Committed, the more didactic elements take attention away from the other half of the book, which reads like a high-octane thriller. Here, the cultural critique is equally piquant...but it is more seamlessly integrated into the narrative ... a novel that is bifurcated at its core.
... brainy, brawny ... The plot is shaggier than high-pile carpeting, and features many unsettling sequences ... Telling the story occasions a great deal of polemical wordplay on the part of the narrator about what it means to be a knowing arriviste in the imperial metropole ... Less incisively clever and far more self-righteous are his endless monologues, thought and spoken, about identity, ethics and action ... The protagonist and the characters around him are as willing to theorise themselves as they are to get high or point a gun, and often these three actions happen in concert. The result is a didactic presentation of thugs, addicts and hustlers as salon-grade thinkers and revolutionary polemicists ... Unlike its demanding predecessor — idea-filled and irreducibly searching in its mood and effects — The Committed is a work of assuredly settled and excessively well-demonstrated points. Its rawness and ideated rage make it easy to admire and perfect to study, a bravura impersonation of a major novel.
The Committed invites debate through its complex portrayal of political alignments, racial identity and, as the narrator admits, selfish flaws. It’s richly layered with philosophical arguments and intellectual ideas, as well as a small but engrossing dose of criminal thrills ... While it is helpful—and should be a prerequisite based on its Pulitzer Prize status alone—it isn’t necessary to read The Sympathizer to become enmeshed in the pages of The Committed. Reminiscent of John Le Carré’s deeply textured spy novels, The Committed proves Nguyen is no one-hit wonder when it comes to fine literature.
Using suspense as a vehicle for postcolonial philosophy has a certain logic: what could be more suspenseful, at least for ex-colonies and their diasporas, than the rush towards their own futures? Theory dominates so heavily that reading at times feels more like sitting in a graduate seminar than being swept away in a story. But narrative cannot exist without theory ... In such highly-charged scenes, point of view shifts, a revival of a technique from The Sympathizer, in which narration degenerates from first-person singular to dissociated third-person under the pressure of torture and traumatic memory. The Committed further destabilizes perspective, launching with a lyrical first-person plural prologue ... The book is also peppered with nods to Vietnamese identity, simultaneously educating the non-Vietnamese reader while winking at the Vietnamese one, too ... Even for readers without memories of Danish butter cookie tins, The Committed embeds humor accessible to everyone, whether scatological (a continually clogging toilet that requires fixing by the teary-eyed narrator) or sexual (descriptions of men’s private parts) ... Toward the end of the novel, a real photo of a protest appears: theory made real.
Readers who want more of a good thing will be excited to dive into The Committed ... The vibrant self-centeredness of 1980s Paris is perfectly captured in Nguyen’s observant prose ... The plot is frantic and violent – or would be if it weren’t relayed in the wry, intellectually conflicted voice of this narrator. We learn so much about his internal life that the storyline becomes almost beside the point… which is good, as after an electric opening act The Committed turns muddy and difficult to follow ... Even the novel’s eventual scenes of torture carry barely a whiff of tension or horror. Acts of utmost violence and betrayal are, instead, causes for sardonic rumination ... Readers who found new ways to think about race and the refugee experience in The Sympathizer will find plenty more to explore.
Nguyen’s Big Red Books that waltz, tango and jitter bug with capitalism, colonialism, national liberation struggles, as we called them back in the day, and with communism and anti-communism ... It’s a delight to read Nguyen’s playfulness with language, which seems to have a life of its own and that teaches him a lexicon to navigate an underworld of sex, lies, betrayals and the ideals that lure men and women into the ranks of revolution and capitalism ... Nguyen borrows most of the clichés of pulp fiction, including the femme fatale, the fall guy and the fanatical wheeler dealer. He blows them up and lodges them in a drama that veers from farce to agitprop and romance. The big attraction is the author’s own intellectual pyrotechnics which rarely slow down, get lost in the nuances of the plot or in the unraveling of the characters who have cartoon-like names such as Grumpy, Shorty, Bon, Man, Boss, Mona Lisa, the Maoist Ph.D., BFD, and who are little more than scarecrows who enable the author to expound on Marx, Gramsci, Fanon and Mao ... The narrator in the second book is more than a bit insane and ought to be committed to a mental institution. But his madness enables him to see through hypocrisies and illusions.
The Committed is thin on plot and more cerebral than it's predecessor, with the author apparently heedless of the pitfalls of having his erudite protagonist/narrator expatiate upon anti-colonial theory as propounded by Fanon and Césair. Yet, in a carefully wrought and incremental development, that protagonist's perception of himself as the consummate "sympathizer" emerges as more apt here than it did in his first book. Although he increasingly sees the faults underlying the ideological constructs towering over both sides of the Vietnam divide, he feels for those of his compatriots propping up either edifice ... Even though Nguyen endows his protagonist with a sharp wit and a nose for sniffing out the hypocrisy of former worldwide colonial power France, he has little with which to propel the story forward, especially in the early going ... But overall, Nguyen does not dissapoint.
Is this novel a comedy or a tragedy? It’s a rare page that doesn’t prompt a chuckle, and the plot often tumbles into staples of farce, the rowdy stuff of bed and bathroom ... In this middle passage, the author picks so assiduously at the scabs of racism and usury, you could also call it a novel of ideas.
A lot of the jokes, like the excrement bearing traces of Conrad and Henry James, toy with cultural reference points. These don’t always take us to the classics, but the resonance usually conveys a chill ... Nguyen notices the most revealing accessories: the watch flourished by a politician in a brothel, the music preferred by a thug in a park. I admired especially how he caught the nuances surrounding a US jazz band in Paris ... Since Nguyen’s dialog does without quotation marks, the citations packed extra punch, like bulletins from another world. A similar vitality imbued the ghost characters, though like the living, most of them lacked a name ... I could call The Committed a distinctive experimental amalgam. But it seems more fitting to say that I never heard Caliban bellow so sweetly.
The Committed is a shiny pearl of a novel that carries on this story ... With humor and pathos intact, Nguyen puts the pedal to the metal. If you have spent a distinct chunk of time learning how to breathe to slow down your anxious, racing heart during the pandemic, you will have to utilize your new skills to get through this rapid-fire, violent, funny and terrifying bumper car collision of colonialism, communism and capitalism ... This sounds like a dark, moody book with a lot of posturing about political identity, oppression, the evils of colonialism, and the corruption of the freewheeling renegade consumer culture. However, it reads like a thriller ... Once again, Nguyen entertains, teaches, queries and thrills his readers with a story that touches so many of the hot coals of the firepit that is the persistence of identification and memory ... Nguyen is an awesome storyteller, and this is a book for the ages. Enjoy this rollercoaster ride of a story.
One of the most interesting aspects of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed, sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer, is how much of a critique it is of three cultures: Vietnamese, American, and French ... Commentary about capitalism, colonialism, and culture crowd the novel ... The plot is very Tarantino-esque ... One of the reasons I had trouble getting drawn into the story is that the narrator is largely unknowable ... it requires some suspension of disbelief to accept that a war survivor who has worked as a spy and been horrendously tortured is so immersed in literary theory and philosophy, even as he goes about dealing drugs or visiting brothels ... Ultimately, if you belong to the slice of the population that’s into both violent thrillers and cultural analysis, this well-written book — with its various idiosyncrasies — will hit the spot. For others, it may be a bit of a struggle.
Readers eagerly await more from a writer whose finger is on the pulse of the 21st century. His project is key for our time: reckoning with the tragic colonial history of previous centuries and our own ... a hilarious, terrifying farce. In The Committed , no one escapes satire; the biggest target is colonialism ... The fast-paced action in The Committed puts the narrator-protagonist in constant motion ... Reading this novel induces both delight and displeasure, which are strangely linked. Nguyen performs tours de force in writing about pain, for example in a six-page sentence about a deadly fight ... At first, it is hard to know how to read the book’s tone. Are the footnotes citing French theory serious or satiric? Soon the answer is clear: both. The book is both deadly serious and comic, for the mind of the narrator, as he says repeatedly, is split. In the imperialist lie, colonization is enlightenment ... Nguyen integrates depiction of individual and communal pain with the theory that tries to make sense of them. The book’s most vivid setting is the narrator’s mind, liable to separate into two parts but furnished with memories, feelings, and ideas. Theory becomes the tenuous bridge between the narrator’s selves ... The book features impressive verbal pyrotechnics: puns high and low and witty turns of phrase ... The world seems so absurd to the narrator that his emotions are blunted. He often claims he is dead, and ghosts from the previous book haunt him. The fast pace of the narrative means some characters are briefly sketched; most lack real names, though that is part of the point ... Nguyen continues to lacerate his heart, sensitive to all forms of injustice, by writing as a means of both protest and illumination.
Undeniably erudite and culturally fluent as ever—interweaving history, philosophy, political treatise, theology, even literary criticism—Nguyê˜n effortlessly enhances the story with snarky commentary, sly judgments, and plenty of wink-wink-nod-nod posturing to entertain committed readers ... Fans of The Sympathizer will appreciate the many delight-inducing connections embedded here, but The Committed also works as a strong stand-alone.
... an exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with violence, hidden identity, and meditations on whether the colonized can ever be free ... 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 ... Pleasures abound ... Nguyen continues to delight.
The pages are rife with prostitutes, drugs...and, in the late pages, gunplay. But...Nguyen keeps the thriller-ish aspects at a low boil, emphasizing a mood of black comedy driven by the narrator’s intellectual crisis ... Though the storytelling...gets convoluted (and strange, when a set of henchmen called the Seven Dwarfs enters the plot), Nguyen is deft at balancing his hero’s existential despair with the lurid glow of a crime saga. A quirky intellectual crime story that highlights the Vietnam War’s complex legacy.