I remembered this kind of hunger. I had experienced it so often in my youth, even when my mother served me three-quarters of a meal and saved only a quarter for herself. I’m not hungry, she said. When I was old enough to see that she was denying herself, I said, I’m not hungry, either, Mama. Our staring contest over the meager helpings led us to push them back and forth until her love for me overpowered mine for her, as always. Eating her portion, I swallowed not just the food but the salt and pepper of love and anger, spices stronger and harsher than the sugar of sympathy.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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To live was to be haunted by the inevitability of one’s own decay, and to be dead was to be haunted by the memory of living.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Was there any other way to sing about a city of sadness, the portable city carried by all of us in exile? After love, was sadness not the most common noun in our lyrical repertoire? Did we salivate for sadness, or had we only learned to enjoy what we were forced to eat?

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Whatever people say about the General today, I can only testify that he was a sincere man who believed in everything he said, even if it was a lie, which makes him not so different from most.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Self-interest is good. It’s an instinct that keeps us alive. It’s also very patriotic. Absolutely. So: What is my self-interest in this organization of yours? I looked at the General. It was on his lips, one of two magical words. If we possessed the things these words named, we would propel ourselves to the front rank of American citizens, able to access all the glittering treasures of American society. Unfortunately, we had only a tentative grasp on one. The word that identified what we did not possess was “money,” of which the General might have enough for his own use, but certainly not for a counterrevolution. The other word was “votes,” so that together “money votes” was “open sesame” to the deep caverns of the American political system.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In this psychosomatic condition, normal social or familial ills were diagnosed as symptoms of something fatal, with their vulnerable women and children cast as the carriers of Western contamination. Their afflicted kids were talking back, not in their native language but in a foreign tongue they were mastering faster than their fathers. As for the wives, most had been forced to find jobs, and in doing so had been transformed from the winsome lotuses the men remembered them to be. As the crapulent major said, A man doesn’t need balls in this country, Captain. The women all have their own.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

But I was also one of those unfortunate cases who could not help but wonder whether my need for American charity was due to my having first been the recipient of American aid.

  • From The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen