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A Man of Two Faces

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I loved this re-membering from Viet Thanh Nguyen. It is so well thought out and so eloquent. I loved hearing about his parents’ store and their history with San Jose. I love that VTN used his memoir as also a critique on AMERICA — love the emphasis on America and the AMERICAN DREAM. The formatting and text layout of the entire book really helped with the emphasis. There is so much to parse through but reading the book in a poetry-like format with line breaks and alternate left/center/right-aligned was perfect for getting the information across without diluting it. I think VTN is sharp and I understand when he says that since becoming a parent, his writing and also self-awareness has changed. It’s beautiful to be able to see his progress between short story collection THE REFUGEES (written first and before THE SYMPATHIZER even thought TS was published first) and this very personal memoir.

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"So many of war’s casualties are never counted. Never commemorated, never named on walls, never written about in novels and plays, never featured in movies. The refugees, the suicides, the disabled, the unsheltered, the traumatized, the ones who have departed this reality. The ones never known."⁣

Summary⁣
With insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism, in A Man of Two Faces Viet Thanh Nguyen rewinds the film of his own life. He expands the genre of personal memoir by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son.⁣

This book was difficult to summarize, I found this summary online and it really hit the nail on the head about this unique, underrated gem. The format took me a minute to sink into but once I did, I couldn't stop reading. The quote I used is one that made such an impact on me, all of the many immigrant experience stories I've read I've never once thought about the war casualties in this way -- it absolutely broke my heart. How can a book that explores racism in such a way also make such an emotional impact?? ⁣

I highly recommend A Man of Two Faces. I've owned The Sympathizer for a bit now and after it is mentioned a few times in this book and now that I know I enjoy Nguyen's unique writing style, I am looking forward to it even more. Have you read anything by Nguyen?⁣
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Nguyen is a professional writer and it shows. This book pushes the nonfiction/memoir form and pulls it off. Smart and cutting. There is an underlying rage that reads beautifully. I also love the way he incorporates art, pop culture, literature, and history into the telling of his and his family's story. It runs a tad long at the end, but overall it is really really great.

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In "A Man of Two Faces," Viet Thanh Nguyen delivers a masterful exploration of his own life, blending personal memoir with broader narratives of refugeehood and colonization. With a unique blend of insight, humor, and lyricism, Nguyen rewinds the film of his existence, exposing the hidden layers of violence beneath the sunny facade of AMERICATM.

From his forced migration to the USA at the age of four to the painful revelation of his parents' shooting on a Christmas Eve, Nguyen grapples with the complexities of identity and belonging. His teenage existential crisis, triggered by Vietnam War films, leads to profound self-discovery and a poignant visit to an adopted sister in Vietnam.

This memoir is not just a personal narrative but a profound reflection on cultural power, memory, and the promises America makes and breaks. Nguyen's writing is emotionally resonant and intellectually brilliant, showcasing the exceptional storytelling of one of today's most important writers. "A Man of Two Faces" is a deeply moving and thought-provoking journey into the intricate intersections of identity and heritage.

Thank you to Grove Atlantic, Grove Press for the advanced reader copy to review via NetGalley!

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Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Press for providing me with an advanced copy of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s incredibly entertaining and stimulating memoir A Man of Two Faces. Much like The Sympathizer and Ellison’s Invisible Man, Thanh uses this kind of duality of identity to explore what it means to be Vietnamese American. I absolutely loved this book. I’m a huge fan of Nguyen’s other books and have attended talks by Nguyen, so when I found our about his memoir, I was doubly excited to not only read a new book of his, but also learn more about his life, how he came to writing, and more in general about one of America’s most important writers and thinkers. Like The Sympathizer and other works, Nguyen plays with styles and genres ultimately adapting them to not so much tell his story as immerse readers in his world. At first, I found his narrative a little strange, but ultimately appreciated how he used first person to engage readers and share his perspective. It further highlights how he is not only concerned with sharing his experiences, but also making them more relevant to his audience. While my family experience was very different from Nguyen’s, I could relate to the video store as our pre-internet source of knowledge and information. Nevertheless, Nguyen’s examination of how Vietnam is remembered (or maybe misremembered) in the 80s in not just films but also books and memoirs enabled me to better examine how popular culture not only shapes our understanding of the current world, but also past events and history. I also realized this from The Sympathizer’s scenes with the auteur and consulting about the war movie. What’s most enjoyable about his writing is not just the engaging use of narrative techniques, but Nguyen’s combination of keen social analysis with irony and humor. Not many writers can incorporate this kind of analysis and entertainment, but Nguyen is one of the most entertaining social critics and writers. In addition to being an insightful critique, A Man of Two Faces is also a great story about family and culture, and how, in particular, Nguyen’s parents provided so much for him. Too often, we don’t always realize what our parents have done for us until we are older and have gained some perspective. While it didn’t seem that Nguyen was ungrateful as an adolescent, he does this memoir to provide some thanks to his parents for their amazing journey to America and the sacrifices they made as shop owners. I really enjoyed this memoir on so many different levels- from Nguyen’s family story, to his care for his mother in her later years, and seeing how these experiences inspired his writing. What was most enjoyable, though, was learning how he became a writer, and how he battled doubt to eventually write The Sympathizer, The Refugees, and The Committed. I loved reading about his experiences in seminars and how challenging it was to gather his experiences and ideas into writing. This memoir provided great insights into the creative process, as well as sharing the experiences of an immigrant family in America. Furthermore, Nguyen retells his story in such a unique and critical voice—one that is not condescending or grating, but rather compassionate and grateful. I have been recommending this book to friends and others and am looking forward to reading this again.

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I remember being moved by and learning quite a lot from The Sympathizer, so I was intrigued when I saw that Viet Thanh Nguyen was putting out a memoir. As you can see from this quote, I learned quite a lot from this memoir as well and I strive to keep learning more!

Nguyen’s writing is gorgeous, as always. The details are poignant and you can feel his nostalgia. I was moved by his openness, honesty, and vulnerability as he shared his story.

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A terrific memoir that is very similar in tone to Nguyen's novels and other scholarly writing. Really enjoyed how he straddles the line between fiction, nonfiction, and memory here. It was a little odd and confusing at times to read a memoir addressed in the second-person, but once you get used to it, it's a powerful piece of writing.

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This book's formatting was difficult for me to grasp as it was fragmented and therefore complicated to follow. I recognize the depth of the content and the poetic flow of the pages which is both intriguing and intimidating. This is one where it was read in multiple sittings and more of a pick-up and read than rush through. I'd recommend enjoying this through audiobook vs physical.

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Dynamic, thought-provoking, and as much about personal and geopolitical history as it is about the act of memoir itself. The fraught nature of memoir. I'll be thinking about this for a long time.

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I LOVED this memoir, and could relate in so many ways!

Notable lines:

“All our parents should have movies made of their lives. Or at least my parents should. Their epic journey deserves star treatment, even if only in an independent, low-budget film.”

“You do not deal well with emotional difficulty, except in your writing. With actual people, you prefer your emotions like your roads, smooth, straight, and uncrowded.”

“Nostalgia is, literally, homesickness, with those afflicted yearning for their home. But what to call being sick of home?”

“Look at what Má accomplished with just a grade school education, overcoming everything-almost everything-except her mind.”

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[Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for am ARC] A 4.5 read for me. Fittingly with its title, it's about dualities and nuances and going beyond fact and just plot (or in this case, "typical" memoirs). As with most of his past witty writing, Viet Thanh Nguyen manages to make the particular feel universal and the somewhat quotidian feel orders of magnitude greater, finding humour in lines that might seem like throwaways but always carry depth (re: moving from Pennsylvania to California: "thank God. Just kidding, Harrisburg. I don't believe in God") or that are followed by earned emotional punches. The patter of the language is always engrossing. The inclusion of family photographs is especially enriching of the read and overall it's very much always worth the price of admission to sit in this author's mind for a while.

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This memoir based on a series of interviews packs a lot of punch. I felt !most comfortable when the author writes about his mother and her influence while growing up. The immigrant and refugee displacement in general and from Vietnam is one that is centered on war and strife.treatment as depicted in movies and literature can be violent and stereotypical. I had an uneasy feeling as I read this memoir with its often mocking tone of America. Which can be a good thing for knowledge and change. Literary references added perspective. I liked the second and third parts the best. The first part focuses mainly on history which had me on edge.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley

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A Man of Two Faces is the reason I read memoirs. It is the perfect blend of insight, wit, humor and personal stories of refugeehood, colonization, Vietnam and America. I learned so much through his story. At only age four, Viet and his family were forced to flee to the U.S. Then five years later on Christmas Eve, his parents were shot while working at their grocery store. As he gets older, he realizes the promises America makes and breaks.

Viet's profound story will stick in readers' minds. It is an inspiring journey written in lyrical fashion. A GoodReads Choice 2023 nominee for a reason! I recommend to Bookhearts interested in an honest, well-written memoir with a dose of history.

A Man of Two Faces is now available.

Disclaimer: An advance copy was received directly from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own and would be the same if I spent my hard-earned coins. ~LiteraryMarie

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This is probably one of my favourite memoir of the year: so real and powerful. While I was previously struggling with his short stories and other fictions, I found his stories so though-provoking after reading this book. Recommend this book to every human being even you know so little about Vietnam.

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An insightful and thought-provoking memoir with humour, lyricism and sharp critique of colonialism, nationalism, and racism as Nguyen shares his experiences as a refugee, child of refugees, and as a writer of colour. With unconventional structure, Nguyen’s writing is masterful and powerful. It will have you underlining every other sentence and crying by the very end.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen’s memoir, "A Man of Two Faces", talks about his life growing up as the son of Vietnamese parents who came to the U.S. to escape a country torn apart by war. He was only 4 years old and has some limited memories of his time as a refugee having been separated from his parents. Most of the baggage he carries relates to growing up as the son of two refugee parents trying to succeed in an America that was stacked against them. This book is a complex combination of personal experiences and a political statement about the racism and injustice that refugees experience while pursuing the “American Dream”. It’s extremely personal but also focuses on broad injustices in the areas of colonization, occupation, and immigration. It’s written in a stream of consciousness style with the beautiful writing one has come to expect from Nguyen. It’s a challenging read and leaves the reader with a lot to think about.

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Wow what a book. I really liked how the author simultaneously told his own life story and also had larger discussion about refugees, colonialism, racism etc. The writing style was also just so easy to read and follow even with some of the heavier topics.

Touching, heartfelt, and informative this is my favorite memoir for this year.

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A Man of Two Faces is the memoir of Pulitzer Prize winning author of Viet Thanh Nguyen, but it feels much more like an essay collection following his life. He begins with his escape from Vietnam, that he does not remember, and ends with an essay about his elderly father. While written as essays in paragraph form, it feels like poetry. His writing is soft and smooth yet making sharp points that pop the balloon surrounding the ideas of American Exceptionalism. The writing will make you gasp at its beauty while grabbing your chest in despair at his points. It's incredible, and as someone who has never read Nguyen's fiction, I cannot even begin to see how this form of writing translates to fiction, but I'm going to pick it up. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Of course the author of novels The Sympathizer and The Committed and short story collection The Refugees has his own story to tell. Viet Thanh Nguyen's fiction is acerbic, poignant, philosophical and very very funny. The humor preps the reader, softens the reader, for the hard truths that follow. Nguyen employs that same technique in A Man of Two Faces: a Memoir, a History, a Memorial.

It's a memoir, and so much more. It's a study of identity, of those characterized as "other", those without a voice. Is that why he became a writer? Nguyen critiques America's (and Vietnam's) history of colonization, militarization, capitalism, etc. with an eye towards a reckoning, an acknowledgement of the past. There's both criticism and admiration for America (AMERICA™️) calling it a country of "brutality and beauty, of horror and hope". Two sides to the countries, two sides to the man.

A Man of Two Faces is a fascinating read. The pages flew by. We're fortunate to have his voice.

My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC. A Man of Two Faces was published in October 2023.

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“A handful of bad memories can be more indelible than a lifetime of good memories or mediocre ones. We noticed the scar, not the skin. Being taken away from your parents is burned in between your shoulder blades, a brand you do not usually see until you examine yourself with the mirrors of your own writing”. And once again, by engaging with the specific, Nguyen gets universal.

Viet Thanh Nguyen writes about his experience as a refugee growing up in the States with the additional challenge of a mentally ill mother. The rhythm of his account takes some getting used to with its shifts and turns and word play, but he covers all the imaginal bases from colonialism to the difficulties between generations in a new country to white supremacy, but also including the love of the family he came from and the family he created in this powerful memoir.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

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