Kit Rachlis on why Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is a wonderful LA novel

Ok, I have to admit, I have not read Bats of the Republic, which Rachlis eventually chooses over The Sympathizer in Powell’s heart-wrenching, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, I-can’t-turn-away-even-though-it-ruins-my-March-every-year Tournament of Books. BatsOfRepub sounds great from the descriptions, I admit. But I was rooting for The Sympathizer, which is a brilliant book, written by a fellow USC professor who, unlike me, can actually finish a book and have it be amazingly good. I can forgive Rachlis the decision, however, because it is clear that his/her judgment is sound and based on good reading. More importantly, here’s a comment on southern California that I wish I could tattoo on foreheads for both a) insight and b) awesome writing:

Further, it takes place in Southern California, where I have spent most of the past 27 years and which remains, to my prejudiced mind, one of the most misunderstood places in the United States: an object of endless cliché, stereotype, envy, and superciliousness in the hands of too many writers who should know better but don’t. But like the best writing in which Southern California plays a central role, The Sympathizer looks past the region’s surfaces—its malls and freeways and palm trees—and burrows deeply into its mysteries and contradictions.

Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhh such good writing.