I loved The Sympathizer. I found the story of the duality and duplicity of the half-French, half-Vietnamese counterspy original and irresistible, and it was one of my favourite books of the year in which I read it.
So, I was excited about its sequel, The Committed, and right away, I was drawn into the book, which skilfully reminds the reader of the plot of the previous book, while arriving, literally, in new territory: Paris.
I had a Zoom cocktail with a friend at this time, and told him what I was reading (we always talk about books). He said he didn’t like The Sympathizer, partly because he would prefer to read accounts from the time by those who had experienced the Vietnam War, rather than this interpretation from a writer at a further remove. But he also said he found the book really overwritten.
Damn it! I hated that. Because when I returned to the book, I also found it overwritten.
And wonderfully jammed with ideas and a page-turner and engaging. As messy as a Tarantino climax. And yes, overwritten.
So, when I finished the book, I thought I’d see what others thought. And fancy that, the first review I find, by Dwight Garner in the New York Times, describes the first 100 pages as ‘better than anything in the first novel’ and then … overwritten … and ‘shaggy, shaggy, shaggy’. So, I’m thinking that I was right to fall into this novel right away, and that my perceptions at mid-stage were also correct (and found it spooky that my feelings about the book were so well-expressed by Garner).
It’s a wonderful mess of a novel, The Committed, and it’s about something. The author is smart and studied and presents important ideas and serious, searing questions with a narrator who you can’t take your eyes off. I appreciated learning more about the Viet Nam war and its aftermath, but more than that, the political context and ideologies and moral and intellectual struggle. The many ideas. The intelligence with which they are presented. The bravery and bravado.
I recommend reading both books. Jump in. Strap yourself down. And go along for the ride.