Vietnamese Migrant Wins Pulitzer for Debut Book

So, if you hadn’t noticed, migration is big news. Officially.

The Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and the arts, now 100 years old, were awarded this week, and IOM got an honorable mention for its part in helping Associated Press get its prize for reporting on fishermen  used as slaves in Indonesian waters and other abuses in the seafood industry in Southeast Asia.

A Pulitzer also went to the photographers from ThomsonReuters and The New York Times for their work capturing the often harrowing scenes of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on Greek Islands.

But the most surprising laureate was Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA. His maiden novel, “The Sympathiser,” set in Vietnam and the United States – barely noticed by the lit crits – highly impressed the  Pulitzer judges who called it the story of “a man of two minds and two countries”.

Nguyen described his oeuvre as “a confession from one Vietnamese to another.” It’s a black comedy and a spy story, which centres on a group of South Vietnamese spies who escape to the US when the Vietnam war ends. One of their number is a Viet Cong captain, who reports back to his leadership about the group and its activities in Los Angeles, particular on the former general who runs a liquor store.

His day job is as a teacher of English and American Studies at the University of Southern California – not bad for a child who arrived in the States in 1975, living in a refugee camp in Pennsylvania  for several years, where he was initially separated from his family, aged just 4,  before settling with his parents and sister in San Jose, California.

He told his university newspaper:  “I see myself as part of a larger movement of writers of color, of Asian-American writers who have collectively been trying so hard to bring different voices and perspectives to American audiences and have often felt overlooked or marginalized in different ways.”