‘The Sympathizer’ Book Ending & Plot Summary

Based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, HBO’s The Sympathizer tells the story of a Vietnamese spy who moves to America after the war. But if you’re expecting a straightforward spy thriller, you may be in for a surprise. The 2015 novel is told in the form of the unnamed storyteller’s confession after being captured — and from the beginning, when the spy says he’s a “man of two minds,” it’s clear that he may not be the most reliable narrator.

If you want to peek ahead following the show’s April 14 premiere, here’s a recap of The Sympathizer book ending and plot summary.

The Mind Of A Double Agent

The Sympathizer begins in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War in 1975. The narrator is a communist mole who works closely with a South Vietnamese general, while secretly supplying his boss, Man, with intel for the other side.

After the war, the narrator escapes with the general to Southern California. Here, the general opens a liquor store, and the narrator finds work at the university he previously attended. He also begins seeing the secretary, Ms. Mori (played by Sandra Oh in the show), all while keeping up communication with Man.

'The Sympathizer' Book Ending & Plot Summary. Sandra Oh plays Ms. Mori

Sandra Oh plays Ms. Mori in HBO’s The Sympathizer.Hopper Stone/HBO

In addition to his spy work, the narrator finds another way to be an “infiltrator” by consulting on a film about the Vietnam War. While filming in the Philippines, he is injured in an on-set explosion and leaves the project — but when he returns to America, he finds Ms. Mori (or Sofia) has started a relationship with Sonny, a journalist whose writings catch the attention of the general. During his time in America, the narrator kills multiple people, including Sonny, at the general’s behest.

The Sympathizer’s Ending Is A Forced Confession

The narrator eventually returns to Vietnam, where he is captured and forced to write a confession, only to realize that it’s his boss, Man, who has imprisoned him. Man orders the interrogation of the narrator so he can admit to missing details from his confession, including the role he played in his father’s death and the time he stood idly by when a fellow spy was brutally tortured.

'The Sympathizer' Book Ending & Plot Summary. Hoa Xuande in 'The Sympathizer.' Photo via HBO

Hoa Xuande plays the narrator in HBO’s The Sympathizer.Hopper Stone/HBO

Upon confessing these things and agreeing that nothing is more important than the party’s ideals, the narrator considers himself “enlightened” and is released.

While that may be the end of the narrator’s story as far as The Sympathizer goes, Nguyen actually released a follow-up book called The Committed in 2021 — so there’s certainly enough material to warrant a continuation of the HBO series.

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