an outline of a person through a window uses affiliate links. This means we receive a commission on the sale of certain items. This is at NO additional cost to you. Visit the policies page to learn more.

The cover for the award winning novel THE SYMPATHIZER

THE SYMPATHIZER, published in 2015, is a historical fiction novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

THE SYMPATHIZER won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

You really think one of our own men could be a spy? By now the only part of me not sweating were my eyeballs. What about military intelligence? Or the general staff?


The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.


The Sympathizer is used as an example in the following posts. Check them out!

Comparison of Point of ViewA comparison of point of view in literature (first, third limited, and omniscient) including modern fiction examples. Which is right for your novel?
First Person Point of ViewMe, myself, and I are examples of first person point of view. Check out five times you should use first POV for your novel.
the HookThe hook is the opening of your story. Learn the four elements of a hook.
Show & Tell“Show don’t tell” is bad advice. Learn why you need to show AND tell in your story (plus tips to help you improve your showing).


The Sympathizer is spy book that’s not a spy book. It’s an engaging read that hooks you right from the start. I’d highly recommend The Sympathizer to anyone. But what do others think?

The Vietnamese are living, breathing people in this novel in the way they rarely are in books written by outsiders.

– Alastair Savage

The sympathizer is, in many ways, a bitter novel, because it sees clearly into the human heart, and its messy, divided nature, its “moth-eaten moral covers” – but the bitterness is offset by a sense of resilience and a belief that it need not be like this.

– Whispering Gums

Yet what Nguyen does best in the novel is expose hypocrisy.

– Mystery People
an old typewriter

Writing Practice

It’s time to try some writing exercises and prompts using THE SYMPATHIZER as inspiration.

Prompt: The Opening Paragraph(s)

Your Task: This is the opening paragraph of the novel. Ignore everything you know about the story and use it as a writing prompt.

Using as much detail as possible, write another 300+ words.

Chapter 1

I AM A SPY, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you—that is a hazard, I must confess. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how some dangers first appear.

Exercise: Mix & Match

This exercise is all about being creative. We’re going to merge the idea of THE SYMPATHIZER with a character from LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD.

Your Task: Write a scene where one of the characters of LITTLE RED is a spy.

Need an Idea?

  • Keep it simple and make Red a spy for her mother.
  • Make it more complicated. The Wolf is a spy for ______.

Exercise: The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the event that starts driving the plot upwards. 

Your Task: Analyze the Inciting Incident:

  • What is the inciting incident in The Sympathizer?
  • Find & briefly describe what happens.
  • Explain how the 4 elements of the Inciting Incident work (or don’t) in THE SYMPATHIZER:
    • It has urgency
    • It raises questions
    • It provides deep character information
    • It’s life-changing

Prompt & Exercise Notebooks

Notebooks are a great place to write your prompts & exercises. I carry one with me all the time so I can write down my random thoughts, or do a quick prompt while I’m waiting. Check out these fun notebooks!

a mysterious person


First Published
Apr 02, 2015
Print Length
(according to amazon)
384 pages
File Size
(according to amazon)
1,833 KB
PublisherGrove Press
Goodreads Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Amazon rating for the Sympathizer (4.00 out of 5 stars by over 50,000 reviews
Amazon Rating
(As of Feb 2019)
Amazon rating for the sympathizer (4.1/5 stars by 2056 customers)
Buy Now


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of THE SYMPATHIZER

Have you read THE SYMPATHIZER?

If so, what did you think? If not, will you?

Like this post? Please PIN IT and follow me on social media. Thanks!

PS. share your exercises in the comments below. I’d love to see them.


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of SYCAMORE ROW


Pin This: Book Review & Analysis of THE TESTAMENTS

Wait! Get Exclusive Content!

Stay up to date with exclusive weekly writing tips, prompts, exercises, and more!