This week, Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses his new book A Man of Two Faces, a highly original, blistering, and unconventional memoir in which he rewinds the film of his own life with insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism. Nguyen is joined by writer and professor Vu Tran. This conversation originally took place October 23, 2023 and was recorded live at the American Writers Museum.
About A Man of Two Faces:
Viet Thanh Nguyen expands the genre of personal memoir in A Man of Two Faces 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.
At the age of four, Nguyen and his family are forced to flee his hometown of Ban Mê Thuột and come to the USA as refugees. After being removed from his brother and parents and homed with a family on his own, Nguyen is later allowed to resettle into his own family in suburban San José. But there is violence hidden behind the sunny façade of what he calls AMERICA™. One Christmas Eve, when Nguyen is nine, while watching cartoons at home, he learns that his parents have been shot while working at their grocery store, the SàiGòn Mới, a place where he sometimes helps price tins of fruit with a sticker gun. Years later, as a teenager, the blood-stirring drama of the films of the Vietnam War such as Apocalypse Now throw Nguyen into an existential crisis: how can he be both American and Vietnamese, both the killer and the person being killed? When he learns about an adopted sister who has stayed back in Vietnam, and ultimately visits her, he grows to understand just how much his parents have left behind. And as his parents age, he worries increasingly about their comfort and care, and realizes that some of their older wounds are reopening.
Profound in its emotions and brilliant in its thinking about cultural power, A Man of Two Faces explores the necessity of both forgetting and of memory, the promises America so readily makes and breaks, and the exceptional life story of one of the most original and important writers working today.
VIET THANH NGUYEN was born in Vietnam and raised in America. He is the author of The Committed, which continues the story of The Sympathizer, awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, alongside seven other prizes. He is also the author of the short story collection The Refugees; the nonfiction book Nothing Ever Dies, a finalist for the National Book Award; and is the editor of an anthology of refugee writing, The Displaced. He is the Aerol Arnold Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur foundations. He lives in Los Angeles.
VU TRAN is the author of Dragonfish—a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of the Year—as well as a forthcoming novel, Your Origins. His writing has also appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Best American Mystery Stories, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly, and the New York Times. Born in Vietnam and raised in Oklahoma, Vu received his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his PhD from the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas, and is also the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the NEA, MacDowell, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. He teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor of Practice in the Arts.