Viet Thanh Nguyen (VTN): As you say, there are a lot of different terrains that I find myself working in—as do a lot of other writers in my situation. And while there is some truth to that, it was also simply a continuation of French colonization, a war that was racist and imperialist at its roots and in its practices. I chose Ellison, after the great writer Ralph Waldo Ellison, himself named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great philosopher. Viet Thanh Nguyen on BPR | July 1, 2020 In June, film director Spike Lee released his latest project, “Da 5 Bloods.” The film tells a story about Black American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, and has drawn a fair amount of critical praise for shifting focus away from white soldiers, who’ve typically inhabited central roles in movies about the war. I grew up with these customs, these emotions, these intimacies, and when I heard this man say this to his child, I almost cried. As for those who say this sentence, do you mean it with gentleness, with empathy, with sarcasm, with satire, with any kind of humor that is not ill humored? “Love it or leave it” is completely American and yet un-American at the same time, just like me. Americans had sacrificed themselves for my country, my family, me, he said. I should be grateful. This week, get to know Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer. I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. by Viet Thanh Nguyen. And yet even my son is told to love it or leave it. Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Against all those who say “love it or leave it,” who offer only one way to be American, I insist on the America that allows me to be Vietnamese and is enriched by the love of others. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. They loved me so much that they worked themselves to exhaustion in their new America. When Viet Thanh Nguyen visited Iowa Writers’ Workshop in May, everyone—including me—was starstruck. All of that is America, our beautiful and brutal America. But I was never hungry. Long before Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, the public library in San Jose gave him an award for his debut book, Lester the Cat.Nguyen was in third grade. Long before Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, the public library in San Jose gave him an award for his debut book, Lester the Cat. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It. Phuc Tran: Yeah, I suppose so. The man next to me was Asian, not handsome, plainly dressed. A long series of wars is a pattern. If so, I would not take my son with me. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. The fantasy is tempting, especially because of my Vietnamese history. Viet Thanh Nguyen had no intention of writing a sequel to “The Sympathizer,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a French-Vietnamese undercover agent working for … And if you’d like to hear more from Nguyen, he visited the AWM along with writers Kao Kalia Yang and Vu Tran in May of 2018 to discuss the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, which they all contributed to. The Refugees' Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares memories of being a refugee from South Vietnam. Watch the program in its entirety on YouTube. But if I also felt uneasy, it was because I could not help but wonder: Which America was it? This is part of the complicated task of a writer…we can talk about our people, whoever they happen to be, but we can challenge them as well.”. Many Americans consider the war to be a noble, if possibly flawed, example of American good intentions. I did not understand the contradiction that was our America during my youth in San Jose, Calif., in the 1970s and 1980s. On Wednesday 4 July, the American Library in Paris will welcome Viet Thanh Nguyen to talk about his edited collection of essays The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sympathizer.He is also the Library’s first Writer-in-Residence for summer 2018. “When I was your age, I was very conscious of myself as a Vietnamese American and Asian American, and I knew I was a refugee but I didn’t like go around calling myself that because I knew that there weren't a lot of stories about any of these populations that I was a part of.”. Here's Why, Why TIME Chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 Person of the Year, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. The Nguyen family, in the early 1980s in San Jose, Calif., where his parents owned the New Saigon Mini Market, Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Many Americans do not like to hear these things. And so that’s had an enormous impact on me as a writer, and obviously on other writers, because we have a very vibrant body of Asian American literature today in the United States.”, “The writing process is learning the discipline of writing, learning the art of it, but also learning how to deal with isolation, and rejection, and solitude and all these kinds of things. My father felt that deep love for his country because he had lost it when we fled Vietnam as refugees in 1975. If I had written that letter, I would have asked this dentist and doctor why he had to threaten my son, who was born in America. I had tried various American names on for size. And we’re living at a time in our country when the fact of storytelling is ever present. It’s a matter of building endurance and building character, building spirit to confront that page, because writing is a lifelong endeavor.”, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, Chicken of the Sea (written with his son Ellison Nguyen), VIRTUALLY EXPLOREMY AMERICA: IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE WRITERS TODAY. T he face of Tou Thao haunts me. I wanted my fiction to seem nonfictional, and my nonfiction to seem fictional. Perhaps they feel that deep, emotional love when they see the flag or hear the national anthem. “People say literature saves the world,” he said. Anyone who has heard these five words knows what it means, because it almost always refers to America. Is it not more important that I love the substance behind those symbols rather than the symbols themselves? Instead, over the next Thanksgiving dinner, my father said, “We’re Americans now.”. You seem to love the communists so much, he said. A Moroccan friend in Paris points to the skin I share with these French of Vietnamese ancestry and says, “You are white here.” But I am not white in America, or not yet. Books and stories, especially literature and fiction, were my salvation.”, “I believe deeply that stories are fundamental to how we see ourselves as people, as citizens, as Americans. Like the homeless, refugees are living embodiments of a disturbing possibility: that human privileges are quite fragile, that one’s home, family, and nation are one catastrophe away from being destroyed. But he soon realized something was missing in literature, “and what was missing in it were stories about people like me and my family, refugees, Vietnamese people, Asian Americans…and I wanted to write some of these stories myself.”, Nguyen first came to the United States as a Vietnamese refugee in 1975. When I wrote him back and said he was the only one hurt by his rage, he wrote back with an even angrier letter. Too many people, from the highest office in the land down, have used those symbols to essentially tell all Americans to love it or leave it. Most of the French of Vietnamese origins I know are content, even if they are aware of their colonized history. My parents and their parents never knew anything but French colonialism. “Con oi, Ba day. The current Administration is threatening even naturalized citizens with denaturalization and deportation. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even before you became a writer you had found other artistic pursuits, like tattooing, which I find completely terrifying. Is such a telling American? Quotes . Viet Thanh NguyenNgự Thuyết chuyển ngữ Trang bìa số báo TIME đề ngày Nov. 26 / Dec. 3, 2018 có dòng chữ lớn: WHO GETS TO BE AMERICAN? If we love our countries, we owe it to them not just to flatter them but to tell the truth about them in all their beauty and their brutality, America included. The genocide committed against them by white settlers is Thanksgiving’s ugly side, not quite remembered but not really forgotten, even in France, where images of a half-naked Native American in a feathered headdress can also be found. That does not mean they did not love me. They went twice, without me, to visit a country that was just emerging from postwar poverty and desperation. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American novelist. Being surrounded by fellow refugees gave Nguyen a sense of his Vietnamese heritage and greatly impacted his writing, especially The Sympathizer. We have a president who tells one particular version of the American story, with which I deeply disagree, but his version of the American story is persuasive to a large number of Americans. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Unlike my son, I had to become naturalized. I assume there’s a relationship between your creative interest in tattooing, and your creative interest in writing. The library was my second home. Nguyen was in third grade. Viet Thanh Nguyen gives a keynote speech at the “Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders” for the Japanese American Nation Museum The Transcendients Community Celebration: Challenging Borders, a free one-day event, kicks off on Saturday, March 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Japanese American National Museum. What was the ethnic studies program at Cal like and when you're there? All felt unnatural. I cannot help but see colonialism’s legacies, visible throughout Paris if one wishes to see them: the people of African and Arab origins who are here because France was there in their countries of birth. French rule ended only 17 years before my birth. Perhaps he never made it to the middle of the novel, by which point I was also satirizing the failures of the government under which I was born, the Republic of Vietnam, the south. As such, this war was just one manifestation of a centuries-long expansion of the American empire that began from its own colonial birth and ran through the frontier, the American West, Mexico, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and now the Middle East. I should have. Viet Thanh Nguyen is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.His novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. Or is the sentence always said with very clear menace? I often get asked what books people should read from Vietnamese American authors. Carver would never have ventured into Vietnam, a country about which he knew next to nothing except what it looked like at forty thousand feet. Growing up in the United States, I was encouraged by generations of American tradition to believe that it was normal, desirable and practical to adopt an American first name, and even to change one’s surname to an American one. Viet Thanh Nguyen: In President Trump's vision of a white America, immigrants should be grateful and servile By Viet Thanh Nguyen The Washington Post Jul 18, 2019 And yet today Vietnam, while being independent, is hardly free. All Rights Reserved. I was made in America but born in Vietnam, and my origins are inseparable from three wars: the one the Vietnamese fought against the French; the one the Vietnamese fought against each other; and the one the U.S. fought in Vietnam. My son’s genealogy would be black and white, literary and philosophical, African American and American. "I think there’s a stereotype that Hollywood is a liberal enclave, which might be true in terms of people’s personal politics, but I don’t think it’s true in terms of what Hollywood puts on the screen,” he said. 1990-1992 because I transferred in from UCLA. Essential Reads by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Why wouldn’t they be? Because as generative as it was for me not to feel at home, I don’t want that for my son.”, “One of the transformative moments of my life was going to college at UC Berkeley and discovering that I was an Asian American. Perhaps because of this history, part of me loves France, a love that is due, in some measure, to having been mentally colonized by France. This “put the first seed in my mind that perhaps this could be fun to do.” So from an early age he loved to read and write for the sheer pleasure it brought him, the escapism and entertainment it can provide. Viet Thanh Nguyen's life changed when he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016 for his startling debut novel, "The Sympathizer." A name like Ellison compresses the beauty and the brutality of America into seven letters, a summation of despair and hope. Nguyễn Thành Việt là … I grew up on intestine, tongue, tripe, liver, gizzard and heart. Not the America of those who say “love it or leave it,” but to my America, to an America that I would force to say my name, rather than to an America that would force a name on me. Viet Thanh Nguyen 06:04. But when he spoke to his child in Vietnamese, his voice was very tender. Romanticizing their existence, oftentimes at the margins of French society, would be difficult, which is why Americans rarely talk about them as part of the fantasy of Paris. Have you eaten rice yet?” That means nothing in English, but in Vietnamese it means everything. Viet Thanh Nguyen: I think that when the New York Times Book Review says The Sympathizer gives voice to the voiceless, it is inaccurate. As a teenager in 1987. And yet every country is also soiled in the blood of conquest and violence, Vietnam included. He is the Aerol ... that distracts us from how pervasive war is throughout a society and how it makes all of us complicit through things like … I admit that those symbols mean little to me, because they divide as much as unify. Con an com chua?” He looked a little rough, perhaps working class. In claiming that defiant Vietnamese self, one that disregards anyone else’s definition, I claim my American self too. Con an com chua?” This is how hosts greet guests who come to the home, by asking them if they have eaten. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book A… And to recognize what it feels like not to be at home because it’s that discomfort that helps us to produce something interesting in our writing. I have never said “love it or leave it” to my son, and I hope I never will, because that is not the kind of love I want to feel, for him or for my country, whichever country that might be. That’s all a part of the process. By signing up you are agreeing to our, DACA Has Been Fully Reinstated. This genealogy gestures at the greatness of America and the horror of it as well, the democracy as well as the slavery. Only the name my parents gave me felt natural, possibly because my father never ceased telling me, “You are 100% Vietnamese.”. And then I stayed on to do my PhD in English, from 92 to 97. Big limit: everything is in English or translation. The novel is written from the perspective of a Communist spy, something unacceptable to his Vietnamese refugee community. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist. It is hard to say, because I had never said “I love you” to anyone, my parents included, much less a country. America is his country, and perhaps he will know for it a love that will be less complicated and more intuitive than mine. It can only be felt. Did I love America at the time of my naturalization? When I did, they were too tired to be joyful. Each week, the My America blog series introduces you to one of the writers featured in our special exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, which can now be explored virtually. Love it or leave it. Whatever they saw in their homeland, it affected my father deeply. I was weary and did not write back to him. His citizenship is natural, which is as good as the citizenship of the dentist, the doctor and the veteran. The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with contemporary immigrant and refugee writers delving into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, duality, otherness and what it means to be American. I want to create a family where I will never say “love it or leave it” to my son, just as I want a country that will never say the same to anyone. Check back every week to learn more about these writers and their thoughts on these themes, as we highlight select quotes from the exhibit as well as reading recommendations. I should have been elated, and part of me was as we sat before our exotic meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, which my brother had bought from a supermarket because no one in my family knew how to cook these specialties that we ate only once a year. After the second trip, my parents never again returned to Vietnam. Most Americans will not feel what I feel when they hear the Vietnamese language, but they feel the love of country in their own ways. He will also — I hope — know a father’s love that is less complicated than mine. “No, it doesn’t. This is how love of country and love of family do not differ. The Vietnamese people … Indians were the original terrorists in the American imagination. Or have you said it? Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. This is how I know that I am still Vietnamese, because my history is in my blood and my culture is my umbilical cord. Jay Kang 05:58. Viet Thanh Nguyen 05:44. Even for people who don’t think of themselves as professional storytellers, in fact we are always telling stories to ourselves. There is, by now, a significant body of Vietnamese American and Vietnamese literature translated into English. At the same time, I wanted to keep my Vietnamese name. I am writing the sequel to The Sympathizer, and it is set mostly in Paris, so will deal with Vietnamese/French history. Have you heard someone say this? And so I dealt with my isolation and my loneliness by retreating to books and to the library. The principles. Such a statement is a cousin of “love it or leave it.” But there should be many ways of being Vietnamese, just as there are many ways of being French, many ways of being American. This appears in the November 26, 2018 issue of TIME. So it is that every day I ask my son if he has eaten yet and every day I tell my son I love him. And take your son with you. Then the U.S. re-established relations with Vietnam in 1994, and my parents took the first opportunity to go home. Read and watch select excerpts from the exhibit below, and explore the virtual exhibit here. Fiction and nonfiction accomplish very different things, but they can overlap. An American veteran of the war, an enlisted man, wrote me in rage after reading an essay of mine on the scars that Vietnamese refugees carried. Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. Perhaps he never made it past being offended by the first quarter of the novel, which condemns America’s war in Vietnam. Anyone who has heard this sentence knows it is a loaded gun, pointed at them. I wanted an American name for him that expressed the complexities of our America. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Well to answer your first question about what makes someone an American Master. The Sympathizer is the 2015 debut novel by Vietnamese American professor Viet Thanh Nguyen.It is a best-selling novel and recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.Its reviews have generally recognized its excellence, and it was named a New York Times Editor's Choice.. I could be classified as a minority writer in the context of the United States, but when I go to France, I’m pleased that they actually call me an American writer or an American writer of Vietnamese origins. Perhaps it is not so far-fetched to imagine that one day someone like me, born in Vietnam, might be sent back to Vietnam, despite having made more out of myself than many native-born Americans. Back then I only wanted to be American in the simplest way possible, partly in resistance against my father’s demand that I be 100% Vietnamese. Aware of my colonization, I do not love France the way many Americans love France, the ones who dream of the Eiffel Tower, of sipping coffee at Les Deux Magots, of eating a fine meal in Provence. Mine is Viet Thanh Nguyen, although I was born in Vietnam as Nguyen Thanh Viet. His stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, TriQuarterly, Narrative, and the Chicago Tribune and he is the author of the novel The Sympathizer, and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory War. At last, my father had claimed America. A Vietnamese American/diasporic reading list. “Con oi, Ba day. Viet Thanh Nguyen Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. Whichever way you arrange my name, it is not a typical American name. This was how parents, who would never say “I love you,” told their children they loved them. Literally, he said, “Hello, child. This is your father. Naming my own son was then a challenge. I think recently that changed for me a bit because I became a father, and now I feel at home with the family that I have, the home that we’ve created. He talked about a prevailing belief back in his college years at Berkeley. I ask out of genuine curiosity, because I have never said this sentence myself, in reference to any country or place. My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated. Even if my Vietnamese is imperfect, which it is, I am still connected to Vietnam and to Vietnamese refugees worldwide. That is how I feel the love of country for Vietnam, which is one of my countries, and that is how I feel my Vietnamese self. Democracy, equality, justice, hope, peace and especially freedom, the freedom to write and to think whatever I want, even if my freedoms and the beauty of those principles have all been nurtured by the blood of genocide, slavery, conquest, colonization, imperial war, forever war. He spoke southern Vietnamese on his cell phone. “When I was growing up as a refugee in San Jose my parents were working all the time, so they provided all the material things that I needed but they didn’t have the time to spend with me. Still, no matter how weary they were, they always made dinner, even if dinner was often just boiled organ meat. By keeping my name, I could be made into an American but not forget that I was born in Vietnam. Yes. And yet, when I was growing up, some Vietnamese Americans would tell me I was not really Vietnamese because I did not speak perfect Vietnamese. So the family “fled on foot, made it to the nearest port city 150 kilometers away, through very terrible circumstances, throngs of refugees and fleeing soldiers, and dead people.” They safely got to Saigon, only to have to flee again a month later after North Vietnam captured Saigon. 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