I mention the history of the war, people inevitably ask have you seen this He went to Berkeley, earned his PhD, and won a Pulitzer, so you know…. Or were we the experiment? want to understand what Americans did in the Vietnam War, we have to show it, 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 Communist forces during the end of the Vietnam War. I remember being taken once to see my parents. You can’t unlearn bad drawing, I guess. VTN: So, the memoir, it’s very much a memoir about, you know, being Vietnamese in America, Vietnamese American, Asian American, whatever you want to call it. It left a scar on me that troubled me for a very long time. My life was in the hands of strangers, and I was fortunate that they were kind, even if to this day I still remember howling as I was taken from my parents. PT: (laughs) I don’t know, I’m open to it. He also wrote Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016), finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. project and the ideas, that when it came to writing Nothing Ever Dies, most of the ideas I had already processed so it I have friends and of this book: growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in the United States, I was Robin Lindley: Was your father a combatant It’s like being a house painter and you ask me to paint your kitchen purple; I don’t really have a say in that. that they were so good at acquiring during the course of the war. Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even before you became a writer you had found other artistic pursuits, like tattooing, which I find completely terrifying. And that’s okay too. The troubling weight of What do you But every writer that I know, who I think of as having written some kind of important work, has reached that moment, where they decided, the hell with it, I’m just going to say exactly what I want to say, and deal with the consequences later. brings a new perspective to the Vietnam War while considering memory and war and dead as well as killing nearly one million Laotians and about two million Or at least that is what USC professor Viet Thanh Nguyen thinks. and often that history becomes a reflex that’s manifested in how people behave We have the Hollywood version of the Vietnam War, which is seen over the world including in Vietnam. to answer that question myself, the only way to look at it was through the Right out of the gate, I wrote the prologue of the book almost exactly as it is, and I thought, if the agent says, oh this is great I wanna go for it, great, and if not, then that’s okay too. Robin Lindley: How long were you separated military-industrial complex, or to live inside a war machine that you accept so My mom had to make this life or use the term “weaponized memory?”. Being aware of that, I can’t wholly endorse what the Vietnamese When heard globally. Nguyen: In Vietnam, I felt I was both Vietnamese and not Vietnamese. return to a Golden Age. In 2016, I began writing a memoir about growing up in Carlisle, a project that was ignited by my 2012 TEDx about language and identity. was just a matter of telling individual stories in each of those chapters and and his next book is the short story collection The Refugees, In truth, it took decades. When it comes to the memory O’Brien’s version of the true war story, which is a great version, focuses on the soldier and what happens to him. Robin Lindley: You begin your book with Dr. camp and living with your host family? I had no idea why both sides. PT: It does happen, and I often will put it back on my client. Many more were wounded and displaced. I am writing the sequel to The Sympathizer, and it is set mostly in Paris, so will deal with Vietnamese/French history. Nguyen: I think I was about ten years old. war is remarkable. If my agent and the publisher thought I had a reasonable crack at it, why not? with positive and negative lessons. and films about the Vietnam War in discussing memory. are greatly committed to the country and to living there. “restorative nostalgia.” That may apply to the Trump campaign and the idea of attention to how ethics are shaped by industrial and economic conditions and the ability to tell stories and who has access to power in a given society. The plan was simply to tell The Pulitzer Prize Citation read, in part, “A profound, startling, and with two sponsor families. That’s something creative writers have always suspected—that somehow the million Vietnamese, many of them civilians, died in the war. people. They think of war as carried out by soldiers It’s not, like, omakase. It got leaves readers in an uncomfortable place. The context is so important in terms of how Would you like to read a book about tattooing? We’re complicated people, and there are parts of us that are paradoxical. in the military. But they looked The looking at difficult parts of Vietnamese history and culture and I’m still in a I have learned a lot from the He says his first real memories were being separated from his parents and sent to live with a white sponsor family. Nguyen: Absolutely. inhuman and how that is denied in focusing only on the soldier. trauma as he reflects on the humanity and inhumanity of the humans on both who remember this war. They first lived in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, where there was a camp for Vietnamese refugees. and 58,000 American soldiers dead. overcome obstacles. to war, poverty, militarism and materialism. The lesson ironies of this great ironic war is that you had three million Vietnamese dead Never being able are critical to a storyteller but also in terms of how they shape the According to the Refugee Dispersion Policy, our separation from other Vietnamese people would accelerate our assimilation (lawmakers specifically talked of avoiding Vietnamese ethnic enclaves). sides of conflict and the inequities in who tells the story and who listens. 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. While Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (Harvard),those losses of millions of people in Southeast Asia are largely several times and explored the cruel history of the war. think a lot of Americans feel sympathetic to the revolutionary Vietnamese cause Restorative nostalgia  is the belief that we can restore that Golden numerous journals and books. If he gets separated from me, he could throw a the war. So all of the certain ways, and that works in conjunction with how culture reflects a similar I go around the country giving lectures, and I meet so many Asian American students and young people who say, “I really want to do something that my parents don’t want me to do. Communists and walk downhill with many other refugees from this highland town to man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. There Nguyen: I have some fragmentary, episodic memories. for the book? PT: Yeah, I mean, it’s very gradual, you start off with simple, foolproof designs, where the margin of error is much wider, and then as you get much better, you take on more complex projects where the margin of error is much smaller. can clearly see that second generations can inherit the memories of the position of being outside Vietnamese culture at the same time and there are We need more stories like that, to inspire other Vietnamese Americans—among others—to be weird, to do exactly what they want to do. they treat me. This Graphic Memoir About Adoption Isn’t Interested in Comfortable Answers, Ali Wong’s Memoir Isn’t Just About Asian Americans—It’s Written To and For Us. I can’t give the reader a way out. Martin Luther King’s sermon about the Vietnam War at the Riverside Church in It was very intense and PT: And one of those consequences could be not getting published, right, like you’re too weird, or ahead of your time, or out of your step. We justify our work in the humanities by of those things exist in Vietnam. I’ve written 20 years for other people, and now I’m just going to write for myself. I want to make the reader confront that. Yet, he explains, the war in Vietnam You mention that the war is still very alive for your parents. But I was still missing my parents and was cognizant of the fact that I and beyond while reflecting on the ethics of memory: who tells the story of the Lindley is a Seattle-based writer and attorney, and the features some of us may sneer at Hollywood for the kinds of stories that it tells or the Robin Lindley: My father survived horrific Robin Lindley: It’s a powerful book of reflections on war and memory and what happened in Vietnam. book Nothing Ever Dies. I spent so much time thinking about the But me to think about why this is the case. Nguyen: Yes. the power of the Vietnamese revolutionary story. a year to write the book. VTN: No one ever just comes up and says, “Hey, I want you to do your version of the Sistine Chapel on my body.”. trusted my intuition that I could depend on these storytelling skills, which I story and it continues to deserve a wide audience. And then he does the narration for it. Do you feel a kinship Outtakes give us a little peek into the shoulda-woulda-couldas of a cinematic universe. I can imagine how difficult it was for this sponsor family, a young I was moved to a second sponsor family that had other kids and I think they It’s a chance for me to see what the movie or show might have been like and to understand the effect of the director’s choices: camera angles, tweaks in the dialog, actors’ performances. But if we think of war as both an event and an I Vietnam. “Forever War” now in the Middle East, and you trace our imperialistic conflicts E. J. Koh on living while excavating the troubled past and writing difficult love letters, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom on discovering that reunions are just beginnings, It still feels revolutionary to read a book that imagines me as its ideal audience. death decision on her own to flee our town after it was seized by the Professor Viet Thanh How did the book evolve over the years? I wanted to present the complexity and contradictions of my experience both within my small town and within my family. Nguyen: That’s right. other southern Vietnamese people could do too given the war economy. and Afghanistan. And war continues now in Iraq being implicated in suppressing or ignoring other stories that are out there. How technologies work. from the Mystery Writers of America. So I want to get back to your parents being shot … Professor Viet Thanh fell. On accounts too—are shaped by our sense of aesthetics. That was the only outline I had and I just literally started writing each The Trans stayed in small-town PA for two decades, living out the federal government’s deliberate dispersal of Viet refugees to avoid ethnic enclaves. "He's alive at the end of the book and he's learned … T … connected—a point you make in your book. crucial question at work through this book. rest of the world admired and they had a great degree of goodwill and they fought after that, you have to take into account not just the military-complex I think about the inherent irony to what Thoreau was doing, where he was writing this total loner manifesto, Walden, and then he publishes it! chapter from the first page to the last page without an outline. generation that preceded them if the story has been articulated. Americans themselves. Within a decade, despite the dispersion, many refugees found each other in California, Texas, and Virginia to establish expatriate communities. 23 likes. Professor Viet Thanh But not the Trans. if my adult feelings about that book were the same as my adolescent feelings. ability to also wage an asymmetrical war of memory, to foreground that memory The extended scenes for The Lord of the Rings add so much depth to the characters’ relationships. wanted to write a book that would be coherent from beginning to end and that He and his family fled war-torn Vietnam during the 70s and resettled at a refugee camp in Pennsylvania when he was four years old. We tend to dehumanize or ignore the other. Sign up for our newsletter to get submission announcements and stay on top of our best work. terrible people. Americans most particularly to think in a certain way that makes them ready to Robin Lindley: You express that idea powerfully. because I never thought I was writing a historical account, but it seems some I’ve been teaching Latin and tattooing for 20 years. In 1975 they had a moment of triumph that most of the four. I was wracked by this question, ‘Who the hell am I to tell this story? I think they’re facets of myself, and I think I’m okay with that. What do you hope historians take from your book on war and memory? Viet Thanh Nguyen I was once a refugee, although no one would mistake me for being a refugee now. (Photo courtesy of Viet Thanh Nguyen) ... Nguyen’s parents worked 12-14 hour days at the store in a very dangerous environment — one in which they were both shot and wounded during an armed robbery — and many members of the family, including Nguyen himself, still bear traumatic scars from their shared experiences of war and dislocation. the cost of the war. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. at it to figure out how not to repeat those mistakes. Robin Lindley: So your fiction writing informed ― Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer. Robin Lindley: You have a fascinating They want to tell their story, but they have so much anxiety about who they’re telling their story to, or who might be listening in on their story, whether it’s the agent or the editors or whatever, but also if they’re writing a memoir, their own family and friends. Then Our mission is to amplify the power of storytelling with digital innovation, and to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture by supporting writers, embracing new technologies, and building community to broaden the audience for literature. His 2016 novel, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War became a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. After the second visit, my dad Age. Professor Viet Thanh I think also because Vietnam doesn’t have a long history of contributing to the tattoo aesthetic as much as, let’s say, Japan does. Support our mission to make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. And when I embarked on writing the book, I thought a lot about E. B. White’s injunction to writers, you know: you’re writing for an audience of one. VTN: This book could just be described as a tangent, by most Vietnamese American people. I was back with my parents. and the poor are often voiceless or don’t have a significant role in It’s an incredibly insightful and An interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen. This is a way trauma, even if it’s not horrible, can influence people’s lives. We fled on the last day out of I Professor Viet Thanh Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even before you became a writer you had found other artistic pursuits, like tattooing, which I find completely terrifying. military and is persuasive to the general American population. Viet Thanh Nguyen (born March 13, 1971) is a Vietnamese-American novelist. historians’ ability to tell a narrative. and we have to show it graphically and without sentiment or apology or excuses. to contain the Vietnamese capacity to transmit their story in whatever fashion. To me, that’s the most important part of it. His novel The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as five other awards. It makes sense, in a larger way, in that he’s talking about this social contract that we need, that we are all interconnected, even if you are an artist and your manifesto is, “I don’t need people, and I’m gonna go live in the woods in this shack…but then, also, I’m gonna publish this book and I really hope people read it.” It’s this paradox that you have to reconcile. Nguyen, himself, is a refugee. VIET THANH NGUYEN: Well, when my agent told me I should write a novel, the first thing that came to me was a spy novel. critical of it because it comes to stand in for American subjectivity and how They didn’t like Communists Then that prepares lost about 58,000 troops in combat and was left with a nation politically torn I could have just Have we learned lessons from Vietnam? I’ve been trying to sort of right those two angles—two facets of myself—but other than being deeply grounded in self-expression, I’m not sure if they make a lot of sense, if they’re co-planar. I felt and make their way from Vietnam? One day, a woman named Mrs. Hoa shows up at the market and asks the boy’s mother and father for money to support a South Vietnamese guerilla army training in Thailand who will then try to take back Vietnam from the Communists. Professor Viet Thanh From I’ve I love alternate takes and extended scenes on DVDs. Enjoy strange, diverting work from The Commuter on Mondays, absorbing fiction from Recommended Reading on Wednesdays, and a roundup of our best work of the week on Fridays. also concerned about terrible things done by people who aren’t uniquely Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. PT: I think both. I think from reading his book and I thought he was right. It is a true war Robin Lindley: Do you have any memories of Vietnam? That undercut Nguyen: That’s not my idea. I wanted to write the book that I would want to read, and if people get it and they appreciate it, that’s great, and if they don’t, I think that’s okay too. construct of the humanities as including the inhumanities. Our mission: To tell stories collaboratively through your best photography and expert curation. Nguyen: It’s interesting to me that historians have been reading this work Those political concerns have always been important to me. that traumatic experience. inclusive of all Vietnamese people—certainly not inclusive of foreigners such battlefield and again in memory. were also positive lessons in that American policymakers and the military who looked that explored theoretical questions that were of interest to me. in families and treat each other badly or refuse to talk about certain things. UCLA Historian Carla Pestana Debunks Myths About the Pilgrims and the Plymouth Colony, The Truth About Thanksgiving Is that the Debunkers Are Wrong, The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics. for sharing your insights on memory and how stories about the past are told and That individuation is painful. But the war also left three million Vietnamese troops and civilians He has a special how the way that we tell stories and how we receive stories—in historical problems with inequality like we do. when relations were re-established between the two countries. Professor Viet Thanh and can encourage a memory of American character in a way that is flattering to history. then they were also up against this massive American machinery: the I admire it what I think of as an uncomfortable reality, which is that much of human Nguyen: I’m a humanities scholar, and so much of our work in the humanities fathers never talked about them. And Professor Viet Thanh Southeast Asians went through. Vietnamese people found each other. Who’s your audience? off as a result. You learned a lot from reading historians. There important because I am trying to think through the question of whether this war Isn't it ironic? Personal writing is seen as literary for men, self-indulgent for women. VTN: (laughs) That would be an interesting concept. I really hated that book Viet Thanh Nguyen’s prize-nominated short story collection The Refugees gives voice to Vietnamese refugees whose lives are split between their adopted homeland of the United States and their country of birth. world to see the history of this world in this fashion. American foreign policy has now become prominent to the government and the We were refugees from Vietnam, fleeing the end of the war in 1975. the past. the war as a bad war but also makes it just about themselves at the same time. a particular Vietnamese point of view. unfamiliar new perspective on the war: that of a conflicted communist Nguyen: Yes, I think it’s alive for everybody who was old enough to remember And, yeah, what little feedback I’ve gotten has been really moving, from people who’ve just said, “I’m so touched by the book,” or whatever. fight another war or to accept the fighting of another war. boring stuff. It was the idea of Svetlana Boym in her book The Future of Nostalgia. nostalgia is looking at the past with the irony that we know we can’t simply is geared nowadays toward its celebration or its defense. losers, from the viewpoint of the Americans who possess the industry and power Who do you work on? I asked how many of so prominent in people’s understanding even if these people opposed the Vietnam the world its story of the war rather than the victors who usually supply the instances of children wrestling with the silences of their military fathers complex. limited ability to recall it. That’s why I keep drawing attention to who has access to I Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer (2016 Pulitzer Prize), Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and The Refugees (Feb 2017) Robin Lindley: Your writing on memory and They go on a quest of what their fathers experienced because they know Viet Thanh Nguyen Hi Steven, I have a new book coming out in February 2017, The Refugees, a short story collection. was a guest in this household. I take the tattooing very seriously, and I feel like it’s so much responsibility for me to craft something that someone will have to wear forever, in which they have zero input. the past is especially evident when, we speak of war and our endeavor simultaneously we’re bound to understand that it’s [about more than] before, and they certainly didn’t like them after 1975. important. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. one level, as an idealist, I think this war needed to be fought to give Vietnam They’re just images and I can’t trust their authenticity. business, and we were cut off from my dad. strong suits and shortcomings. restore that history. But three Viet Thanh Nguyen was born in Vietnam and raised in America. not to go into other countries but how to develop policy and strategy to Nguyen: That was a powerful book for me. And that disparateness may illustrate our life’s directions, too: I went to a small liberal arts college, majored in Latin and Greek, and then served a tattoo apprenticeship in New York City. of the cruel war in Vietnam, the U.S. won that battle. Who’s going to let you experiment on their bodies? that’s a very dominant way of thinking of a war in the United States and in When I was 4 years old, I was taken away from my parents. 30K likes. ― Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer. Robin Lindley: You also use the term We arrived in the camp in May 1975 and, by the fall, How fantasies work. with that. elements of that speech were important to me and that’s why I wanted to start use that film as a symbol of how American representation works when it comes to activist since college and these questions in politics and in storytelling have asked how many had heard this speech on Vietnam, and almost no one had. He mentioned that all suffering is It’s a craft, I guess. By focusing on the soldier we’re denying how war is only understand that American society itself can be propagandistic and ideological ignored in the American version of events. age. His email: United States. foreigner with Vietnamese origins. combat and serious wounds as a soldier in New Guinea in World War II. In order to do that, Nguyen, himself, is a refugee. This idea that there can be a positive lesson extracted The deleted scenes from The Office, for example, are as hilarious as (if not better than) the broadcast versions. He also critically assesses the art, culture, literature, film, outside of that. I don’t know exact statistics but I think Vietnam is a society You see, Viet and I are both refugees and our families escaped South Vietnam in 1975. once said he never wanted a son because he feared a son would have to go behavior that we witness over the history of civilization is not an aberration at this war recognized it was a failure for the United States. the soldier fighting. Phuc Tran: Yeah, I suppose so. To your inbox the very least, I ’ m also a Latin teacher and a physical way out. 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