With insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism, in A Man of Two Faces: A Memoir, A History, A Memorial (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2023), Viet Thanh Nguyen rewinds the film of his own life. He expands the genre of personal memoir by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son. At the age of four, Nguyen and his family fled his hometown of Ban Mê Thuột to become refugees in the USA. After being removed from his brother and parents and homed with a family on his own, Nguyen is later allowed to resettle into his own family in suburban San José. But there is violence hidden behind the sunny façade of what he calls AMERICA™. One Christmas Eve, when Nguyen is nine, while watching cartoons at home, he learns that his parents have been shot while working at their grocery store, the Sài Gòn Mới. As a teenager, films about the American War in Vietnam such as Apocalypse Now threw him into an existential crisis: how can he be both American and Vietnamese, both the killer and the person being killed? As his parents age, he worries increasingly about their comfort and care, and realizes that some of their older wounds are reopening. Profound in its emotions and brilliant in its thinking about cultural power, A Man of Two Faces explores the necessity of both forgetting and of memory in the life story of one of the most original and important writers working today.
Viet Thanh Nguyen is most famous for his novel The Sympathizer which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and scores of other awards. His other books include Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction), Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America, the bestselling short story collection The Refugees, and The Committed, a sequel The Sympathizer. He co-authored Chicken of the Sea, a children’s book, with his then six-year-old son, Ellison. HBO is turning The Sympathizer into a TV series directed by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame. For a day-job, Dr. Nguyen is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and a Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. Dr. Nguyen has been the recipient of many fellowships including the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations. But most importantly, this is the third time I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him for the New Books Network. Search through the back catalog to hear us talk about his novels and, my favorite Viet Thanh Nguyen Book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.
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