Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXIV Number 9, September 2016

  Thursday, September 22, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. (This is 
just south of the corner with San Pasqual. 
Signs will be posted.) We will be planning our 
activities for the coming months. Please join 
us! Refreshments provided. 
  Tuesday, October 11, 7:30 PM. Letter writing 
meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner of Hill 
and California in Pasadena. This informal 
gathering is a great way for newcomers to get 
acquainted with Amnesty.
  Sunday, October 16, 6:30 PM,.  Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion Group. 
This month we read "The Sympathizer" by 
Viet Thanh Nguyen.


Hi everyone

Happy Fall -- my favorite season.

The Western Regional Conference will be held 
in LA again this year October 28-30.
Here's the link for early bird registration- rates 
increase after October 2nd.

See you all there!

Con Carino, Kathy

Next Rights Readers meeting: 
Sunday, October 18 
 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd

The Sympathizer
 Viet Thanh Nguyen

The New York Times Sunday Book Review
By Philip Caputo APRIL 2, 2015
"The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The more powerful a country is, the more 
disposed its people will be to see it as the lead 
actor in the sometimes farcical, often tragic 
pageant of history. So it is that we, citizens of a 
superpower, have viewed the Vietnam War as a 
solely American drama in which the febrile land 
of tigers and elephants was mere backdrop and 
the Vietnamese mere extras.

That outlook is reflected in the literature - and 
Vietnam was a very literary war, producing an 
immense library of fiction and nonfiction. 
Among all those volumes, you'll find only a 
handful (Robert Olen Butler's "A Good Scent 
From a Strange Mountain" comes to mind) with 
Vietnamese characters speaking in their own 

Hollywood has been still more Americentric. In 
films like "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon," the 
Vietnamese (often other Asians portraying 
Vietnamese) are never more than walk-ons 
whose principal roles seem to be to die or wail 
in the ashes of incinerated villages.

Which brings me to Viet Thanh Nguyen's 
remarkable debut novel, "The Sympathizer." 
Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the 
United States, brings a distinct perspective to the 
war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in 
the literature, giving voice to the previously 
voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look 
at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.

But this tragicomic novel reaches beyond its 
historical context to illuminate more universal 
themes: the eternal misconceptions and 
misunderstandings between East and West, and 
the moral dilemma faced by people forced to 
choose not between right and wrong, but right 
and right. The nameless protagonist-narrator, a 
memorable character despite his anonymity, is 
an Americanized Vietnamese with a divided 
heart and mind. Nguyen's skill in portraying 
this sort of ambivalent personality compares 
favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene and 

Duality is literally in the protagonist's blood, for 
he is a half-caste, the illegitimate son of a 
teenage Vietnamese mother (whom he loves) 
and a French Catholic priest (whom he hates). 
Widening the split in his nature, he was 
educated in the United States, where he learned 
to speak English without an accent and 
developed another love-hate relationship, this 
one with the country that he feels has coined too 
many "super" terms (supermarkets, 
superhighways, the Super Bowl, and so on) 
"from the federal bank of its narcissism."

The narrator's acrobatic ability to balance 
between two worlds is his strength and 
weakness, as he makes clear in his opening lines:
"I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two 
faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man 
of two minds, to see any issue from both 
sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a 
talent," he continues, but "I wonder if what I 
have should even be called talent. After all, a 
talent is something you use, not something that 
uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the 
talent that possesses you - that is a hazard."
And a hazard it proves to be.

The protagonist's narrative, which takes the 
form of a confession written to a mystery man 
known as "the commandant," begins in the final 
days of the war, as Communist forces close in on 
Saigon. The narrator is aide-de-camp to "the 
general" (one of several characters who, like the 
narrator, is never identified by name), the chief 
of South Vietnam's National Police and, with it, 
of Special Branch, the secret police.

But the narrator is also a mole, a Communist 
undercover agent assigned to keep tabs on the 
general and Special Branch's activities. His 
closest friend is Bon, an assassin with the 
C.I.A.'s Phoenix program, "a genuine patriot" 
who volunteered to fight after Communists 
murdered his father for the crime of being a 
village chief. The narrator's North Vietnamese 
handler, Man, is also an old chum. Indeed, the 
narrator, Bon and Man were high school 
classmates, who in their youth melodramatically 
swore allegiance to one another by becoming 
blood brothers. This complex relationship, with 
the narrator in the tenuous middle, riven by 
conflicting loyalties, is a recipe for tragic 
betrayals, and those come, one after the other.

Working through a C.I.A. spook named Claude, 
the narrator dispenses liberal bribes to engineer 
an air evacuation to the United States for the 
general, the general's wife and their huge 
extended family. Bon is also to be lifted out with 
his wife and child. The narrator wants to stay 
and take his place in a reunified Vietnam, but 
Man, convinced that the general and his cohort 
will plot a counterrevolution from abroad, gives 
him a new mission that is an extension of his old 
one: "Your general isn't the only one planning to 
keep on fighting," he explains. "The war's been 
going on too long for them to simply stop. We 
need someone to keep an eye on them."

Nguyen presents a gripping picture of the fall of 
Saigon, its confusion, chaos and terror, as the 
narrator flees with the others under a storm of 
shellfire from his Viet Cong and North 
Vietnamese comrades. Bon's wife and child are 
killed before their plane takes off, giving him 
two more deaths to avenge.

This rich narrative stew is assembled in the 
novel's first 50 pages, then set on a low simmer. 
From that brief, intense beginning we proceed to 
a picaresque account of the narrator's 
experiences as a refugee-cum-spy in Los 
Angeles. He lands a clerical job with his former 
professor, has an affair with an older Japanese-
American woman and sends messages to Man 
(written in invisible ink) via an intermediary in 
Paris. Here the novel becomes both thriller and 
social satire. If you like your humor written in 
charcoal, this is the funniest part of the book, 
though it's occasionally spoiled by zingers that 
belong on "The Daily Show" more than they do 
in a serious novel.

The narrator's espionage activities lead him to 
make a foray into the movie business. He is 
hired by a director, "the auteur" (who bears a 
resemblance to Francis Ford Coppola), to round 
up Vietnamese in a Philippine refugee camp to 
work as extras in his film (which bears a 
resemblance to "Apocalypse Now"). Nguyen 
adroitly handles the shifting tones of these 
episodes, now hilarious, now sad, as the 
narrator tries to do what Nguyen has done: de-
Americanize the portrayal of the war. But, 
unlike Nguyen, he fails.

Thereafter, the book's mood darkens. The 
narrator falls into a web of deceit and treachery 
spun by his dual role and the schisms in his 
soul. Man's suspicions prove accurate: The 
general and some other die-hards, guilt-ridden 
for not fighting to the death, bored with their 
mediocre lives in the States (the general has 
become owner of a liquor store), plot a counter-
revolutionary invasion with the help of a right-
wing congressman. 

The narrator assists in the planning, while 
sending reports to Man. However, to avoid 
having his cover blown, he is compelled to take 
part in two assassinations. One victim is an ex-
Special Branch officer, "the crapulent major," 
the other is a Vietnamese journalist at a 
California newspaper. The descriptions of the 
murders are tense, psychologically complex, 
riveting. The narrator's conscience becomes as 
torn as the rest of him. "Remorse over the 
crapulent major's death was ringing me up a 
few times a day, tenacious as a debt collector," 
he thinks.

 (A parenthetical quibble. Good as it is, "The 
Sympathizer" is sometimes marred by 
overwriting. Lines like this - "The waiters 
arrived at that moment with the solemnity of 
Egyptian servants ready to be buried alive with 
their pharaoh, platters with the main courses 
propped on their shoulders" - appear a bit too 

The general eventually assembles a ragtag army 
of former South Vietnamese soldiers, armed and 
funded by the Americans. Man, kept abreast of 
the scheme, orders the narrator to remain in the 
States even as this army heads back to Asia, but 
he is once again rent by divided loyalties. He 
feels he must go to save Bon, his blood brother, 
from dying in what he's sure will be a suicide 
mission. He finds himself caught in his familiar 
dilemma, "with no idea how I would manage to 
betray Bon and save him at the same time."

The blood of friendship is thicker than the water 
of ideology. The narrator joins the general's 
army. What happens to it is predictable; what 
happens to the narrator and Bon is anything but. 
I don't want to give anything away, except to 
say that in its final chapters, "The Sympathizer" 
becomes an absurdist tour de force that might 
have been written by a Kafka or Genet.

As that narrative unfolds, the protagonist makes 
several startling discoveries, among which is the 
identity of the commandant's own boss, the 
commissar. Under interrogation, the narrator 
goes temporarily insane; but in his madness he 
achieves a new mental clarity. He sees that the 
revolution for which he's sacrificed so much has 
betrayed him and everyone who fought for it - 
as revolutions are prone to do.

Even the people who call the shots must admit 
that the fruits of victory are rotten, and the 
narrator in turn must recognize "this joke, about 
how a revolution fought for independence and 
freedom could make those things worth less 
than nothing.

But that revelation produces an insight that 
saves him from complete despair: "Despite it all 
- yes, despite everything, in the face of 
nothing," he writes at the end of the 
"confession" that is this book, "we still consider 
ourselves revolutionary. We remain that most 
hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of 
a revolution, although we will not dispute being 
called a dreamer doped by an illusion. ... We 
cannot be alone! Thousands more must be 
staring into darkness like us, gripped by 
scandalous thoughts, extravagant hopes and 
forbidden plots. We lie in wait for the right 
moment and the just cause, which, at this 
moment, is simply wanting to live."

(Philip Caputo is the author of "A Rumor of War" and 14 
other books. He is currently working on a novel set in 

Viet Thanh Nguyen's novel The Sympathizer is a 
New York Times best seller and won the 
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include 
the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the 
Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew 
Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from 
the American Library Association, the First 
Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold 
Medal in First Fiction from the California Book 
Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American 
Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific 
American Librarian Association. His other 
books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the 
Memory of War (long listed for the National Book 
Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: 
Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the 
Aerol Arnold Chair of English, and an associate 
professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, at 
the University of Southern California. His next 
book is a short story collection, The Refugees, 
forthcoming in February 2016 from Grove Press.

By Stevi Carroll

Justice That Works - YES On 62

We have buttons! We have brochures! We have 

I went to a meeting presented by folks working 
for YES On 62. The group included priests; 
nuns; public defenders; people from various 
abolitionist groups, including the NAACP; 
Stephen Rohde, Chair, Board of Directors for 
Death Penalty Focus; Mike Farrell (of M*A*S*H 
fame), who's taken time off from Death Penalty 
Focus to work on YES On 62; and other 
interested SoCal people.

We now have access to information and our task 
will be to see how we can pitch the message.  
I've emailed Gary Moody, the president of our 
local NAACP branch, to see if he'd like to do 
something together. We'll consider other 
possibilities at our monthly meeting.

I continue to think one of the best things we can 
do is to contribute to the cause.  Prop 66 (to 
speed up the execution process) has money and 
will start (or has started) flooding the airwaves. 
Vote by mail begins October 10th, so the YES On 
62 message needs to get out, and as we know, 
commercial time costs a bundle. To donate, go to

Maybe just maybe this will be the year the death 
penalty ends in California.

Bryan Stevenson

Our September book for Rights Readers is Just 
Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  If you 
have not had a chance to read it, please do, and 
as you read the exonerations below, think of the 
work the Equal Justice Initiative does.  Also, if 
you have not yet seen Bryan Stevenson's TED 
talk, "We need to talk about an injustice", please 
go to


Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt, Laurese 
State: OH  - Date of Exoneration: 8/15/2016
In 1996, Eugene Johnson, along with Derrick 
Wheatt and Laurese Glover were convicted of 
murder in Cleveland, Ohio and was sentenced 
to 18 years to life in prison. They were 
exonerated in 2016 after the Ohio Innocence 
Project found long-concealed police reports 
pointing to other suspects and the only 
eyewitness recanted her testimony.

Neal Robbins 
State: TX - Date of Exoneration: 8/18/2016
In 1999, Neal Robbins was convicted of 
suffocating his girlfriend's 17-month old 
daughter and sentenced to life in prison in 
Montgomery County, Texas. He was exonerated 
in 2016 after the medical examiner recanted and 
said the death could have been the result of 
aggressive resuscitation attempts.

Anthony Wright
State: PA - Date of Exoneration: 8/23/2016
In 1993, Anthony Wright was convicted of rape 
and murder in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and 
was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 
After DNA tests identified the rapist, Wright 
was acquitted at a retrial in 2016.

Darryle Howard
State: NC - Date of Exoneration: 9/2/2016
In 1995, Darryl Howard was sentenced to 80 
years in prison for arson and the murders of a 
woman and her 13-year-old daughter in 
Durham, North Carolina. He was exonerated in 
2016 after the disclosure of a police report 
pointing to other suspects that had been 
concealed by the prosecution and DNA tests 
that linked a career criminal to the crime.

Johnny Small
State: NC - Date of Exoneration: 9/7/2016
In 1989, Johnny Small was sentenced to life in 
prison for a murder in Wilmington, North 
Carolina when he was 15. He was exonerated in 
2016 after the key witness admitted he falsely 
implicated Small and police reports 
contradicting other witnesses were revealed for 
the first time.

Wayne Martin
State: NY - Date of Exoneration: 9/7/2016
In 2010, Wayne Martin was convicted of fatally 
shooting two men and wounding a third in 
Brooklyn, New York. He was exonerated in 2016 
because police reports pointing to other suspects 
had been concealed by the prosecution.

Richard Raugust
State: MT  - Date of Exoneration: 9/7/2016
In 1998, Richard Raugust was sentenced to life 
in prison for murdering his best friend in Trout 
Creek, Montana. He was exonerated in 2016 
because the real killer had confessed repeatedly 
to friends and acquaintances and a police officer 
provided previously undisclosed testimony 
supporting Raugust's alibi.

Stays of Execution

24	Jeffery Wood			TX
31	Rolando Ruiz			TX

14	Robert Mitchell Jennings	TX
19	Albert Johnson		OK
21	Kareem Jackson		OH


HOORAY! Still no executions in the USA since 
July 15, 2016. Texas has gone five months 
without executing a human being.  This is the 
longest stretch between executions in that state 
since 2008 when the Supremes were considering 
the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Group 22 September Letter Count
UA for POC                    4
Other UAs                    13
Total                        17
To add your letters to the total contact 

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125

Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on 
preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, 
freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the 
context of its work to promote all human rights.