First time author Viet Thanh Nguyen was recognized for his work, The Sympathizer, when he received the Pulitzer Prize. The Sympathizer, written by Nguyen and published by Grove Press, may be Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel, but he isn’t altogether unknown to the worlds of literature and academia. When he isn’t writing his own works, Nguyen is serving as a professor at U.S.C. and writing for the Los Angeles Times as a critic.
Viet Thanh Nguyen Reacts To News That The Sympathizer Has Earned A Pulitzer Prize
The news that The Sympathizer had earned the Pulitzer Prize award came just as Mr. Nguyen was about to give a public reading from his book. The first time author was delivering his reading in Boston as the news broke and decided not to interrupt the recital to celebrate. Instead, he continued on in giving a reading from The Sympathizer, but Viet Thanh Nguyen later said that he was brimming with excited delight throughout the evening.
“Thanks for all your good wishes,” Nguyen later wrote in a Facebook posting. “I double checked with real people in my publisher’s office…and they say that The Sympathizer really did win the Pulitzer Prize. Unless this is some cosmic virtual reality trick. I’m stunned.”
The Pulitzer Prize committee touted The Sympathizer for its unique point of view, allowing readers to experience the duality of a mind whose heart is divided between two countries, the United States and Vietnam. While not autobiographical in the strictest sense, Nguyen has certainly drawn on his own experiences in writing The Sympathizer. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author was born in Vietnam, but he and his family relocated to the United States in 1975 as refugees.
“The Sympathizer, which follows a wickedly smart double-agent for South Vietnam, begins at the end of the Vietnam War, moves to Southern California and eventually winds up on a film set not unlike Apocalypse Now. Part thriller, part political satire, The Sympathizer is sharp-edged fiction,” reports the L.A. Times in describing the plot of Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
What Does The Pulitzer Prize Mean For Viet Thanh Nguyen And For Sales Of The Sympathizer?
Yes, Viet Thanh Nguyen has achieved a great victory with his Pulitzer Prize award, but, other than the prestige that comes along with the award, does it really do anything to boost sales? The answer to that question seems to depend on a number of factors, so the easy answer is that increased sales of The Sympathizer will not be determined solely by its status as an award-winning novel.
Books that are already showing a strong presence on the best sellers lists will likely not show a marked improvement in sales, but authors that have a strong fanbase and publish irregularly may see a sizable increase in book sales after winning an award. The news of a win combined with the rare emergence of new titles from the author will work together to make that author’s works coveted by a larger readership.
For The Sympathizer, which is Nguyen’s first book, the headlines generated by his Pulitzer Prize win and the fact that he is a previously unpublished author may work to his advantage in much the same way. While Nguyen may be hoping for increased book sales along with the greater visibility that winning the Pulitzer Prize has granted, he implies that financial gain was never his primary goal in writing The Sympathizer. As the author cites his most inspiring authors, Jhumpa Lahiri and Toni Morrison, who are each Pulitzer Prize winners in their own rights, it seems clear it has been Nguyen’s love for the craft and passion for his story that has motivated him in writing The Sympathizer.
“Certainly when Jhumpa Lahiri won for ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ it was huge for any of us working in Asian American literature,” The Sympathizer author said. “When that happened, it was such a landmark for those of us who are writers of color and Asian American writers.”
In writing his own book, Viet Thanh Nguyen reveals that The Sympathizer is not intended for every audience, instead, it is meant to speak to those especially capable of understanding the themes within the story, the Vietnamese people.
“The book is confession from one Vietnamese person to another – it was always designed to be addressed to Vietnamese people – anyone else who’s reading they are not the intended audience, at least not in the novel. I thought I was writing the book for myself, but to reach a larger audience it would have to speak to multiple audiences – from the feedback I’ve received, they’ve responded very positively to the book too.”
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