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Books briefing: Viet Thanh Nguyen on his new novel

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Books briefing: Viet Thanh Nguyen on his new novel
Plus, we talk to Imbolo Mbue and revisit Book Review history
“After the Pulitzer Prize I turned into a — please put this in quotes — ‘public intellectual,’” Viet Thanh Nguyen said. “Maybe I just handled it badly.”Joyce Kim for The New York Times

Hi readers,

Here’s your weekly catch-up on everything you need to know going on in the book world.

The news:

  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, “The Sympathizer,” is back with a sequel, “The Committed.” We profile him ahead of the new book, which finds his unnamed Vietnamese narrator in France after escaping from his Communist handlers. “From the perspective of the West and people who are not refugees, boat people — people who flee by the sea — are pathetic,” he said. But with this novel, he wanted to challenge that perception: “You’ve got to think of them as heroic.”
  • We talk to Imbolo Mbue ahead of her new novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” due out next month. The book centers on a fictional African village fighting a foreign oil company that is poisoning their land. “It was an incredibly difficult book to write, because it’s very personal,” she said. “How can the degradation of the environment for the sake of profit not be personal?”
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher and political iconoclast who inspired and nurtured generations of San Francisco artists and writers from his renowned bookstore, City Lights, died on Monday at age 101.
  • Hillary Clinton is teaming up with the mystery novelist Louise Penny to write “State of Terror,” a political thriller about a secretary of state trying to rebuild American leadership amid a wave of terrorist attacks.
  • With “Klara and the Sun,” Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel since he was awarded the Nobel in 2017, he returns to a familiar theme: the frailty of humanity in an era increasingly dominated by technology. Read the Magazine’s profile of the novelist, and read our review of the book.
  • This week in New York Times Book Review history: Ninety-one years ago, we weighed in on “The Maltese Falcon,” by Dashiell Hammett: “Mr. Hammett, we understand, was once a Pinkerton operative, and he probably knows there is very little romance about the detective business. There is none of it in his book, but there is plenty of excitement.”

Fiction out today: “The Bone Fire,” by Gyorgy Dragoman; “The Slaughterman’s Daughter,” by Yaniv Iczkovits; “The Blizzard Party,” by Jack Livings; “The Smash-Up,” by Benjamin Ali.

Nonfiction out today: “Tom Stoppard,” by Hermione Lee; “Surviving the White Gaze,” by Rebecca Carroll.

The critics:

  • Dwight Garner reviews “The Committed,” the sequel to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel. “The narrator’s voice snaps you up,” he says. “It’s direct, vain, cranky and slashing — a voice of outraged intelligence. It’s among the more memorable in recent American literature.”
  • Jennifer Szalai writes about “Liner Notes for the Revolution,” a history of American music by Daphne A. Brooks that puts Black women at its center, including Zora Neale Hurston, Pauline Hopkins, Rhiannon Giddens and Beyoncé.

That’s all for now. Please stay in touch and let me know what you think — whether it’s about this newsletter, our reviews, our podcast, our literary calendar, our Instagram or what you’re reading. We on the Books desk read all of it, and I’ll make every effort to write back. You can reach me at

All my best,

Joumana Khatib

Books at The New York Times

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