A Bitter Pill

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, known for his novel The Sympathizer, brings forth his personal narrative in A Man of Two Faces. His memoir delves into his journey as a Vietnamese refugee, exploring the intricacies of identity, memory, and belonging. Nguyen’s story starts at age four, when he and his family fled Vietnam and sought refuge in the United States.

This book isn’t your typical coming-of-age memoir. Instead, it reads more like a diatribe or a history lesson, packed with intense political commentary that some may find offensive. Nguyen doesn’t hold back in his scathing criticism of the United States and its people. Nguyen wrote portions of the book in the second-person narrative, an unusual choice that adds to its unique style.

Nguyen’s dark wit shines through with lines such as “The communist school of Berkeley.” But his portrayal of anti-Asian racism, while upsetting and eye-opening, often crosses into what feels like bitterness against Caucasians. His constant grievances about Whites, America, and Western culture became repetitive and tiresome.

There are many moments of interest, such as his references to lesser-known historical events, including a 1989 school shooting. However, his mention of George Floyd seemed out of place, unrelated to his personal story.

On a positive note, Nguyen’s openness about his life as a father and son provides a refreshing contrast to the book’s heavier themes. He has had much success as a professor and author, and it would have been nice to see more of positivity about his life.

Ultimately, A Man of Two Faces left me feeling uncomfortable and wasn’t to my taste. It may appeal to those interested in a deeply political and critical perspective, but it didn’t resonate with me. I give it 2 stars.

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