In “The Committed” (Grove Press), a sequel to the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer,” author Viet Thanh Nguyen follows his communist spy protagonist as he arrives in 1980s Paris to take up a new persona: drug dealer.
I may no longer be a spy or a sleeper, but I am most definitely a spook. How can I not be, with two holes in my head from which leaks the black ink in which I am writing these words. What a peculiar condition, being dead yet penning these lines in my little room in Paradise. This must make me a ghostwriter, and as such, it is a simple, if spooky, matter to dip my pen into the ink flowing from my twin holes, one drilled by myself, the other by Bon, my best friend and blood brother. Put your gun down, Bon. You can only kill me once.
Or maybe not. I am also still a man of two faces and two minds, one of which might perhaps yet still be intact. With two minds, I am able to see any issue from both sides, and while I once flattered myself that this was a talent, now I understand it to be a curse. What was a man with two minds except a mutant? Perhaps even a monster. Yes, I admit it! I am not just one but two. Not just I but you. Not just me but we.
You ask me what we should be called, having been nameless for so long. I hesitate to give you a straight answer, as that has never been my habit. I am a man of bad habits, and every time I have been broken of one – never having given up such a thing willingly – I have always gone back to it, whimpering and dewy-eyed.
Take these words, for example. I am writing them, and writing is the worst of habits. While most people squeeze what they can from their lives, suffering for their paychecks, absorbing vitamin D as they enjoy the sunshine, hunting for another member of the species with whom to procreate or just to rut, and refusing to think about death, I pass my time with pen and paper in my corner of Paradise, growing ever whiter and thinner, frustration steaming from my head, the sweat of sorrow sticking to me.
I could tell you the name I have in my passport, VO DANH. I assumed this name in anticipation of coming here to Paris, or, as our French masters taught us to call it, the City of Light. We, Bon and I, arrived in the airport at night on a flight from Jakarta. Stepping out of the airplane, we were gripped by a sense of relief, for we had reached asylum, the fever dream of all refugees, especially those rendered refugees not just once or twice but three times: 1954, nine years after I was born; 1975, when I was young and reasonably handsome; and 1979, just two years ago. Was the third time the charm, as the Americans liked to say? Bon sighed before he pulled his airline-provided sleeping mask over his eyes. Let’s just hope France is better than America.
Excerpted from “The Committed” © 2021 Viet Thanh Nguyen. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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