Viet Thanh Nguyen: ‘I always felt displaced no matter where I was’

The Pulitzer-winning author on difficult second novel syndrome, using humour to explore trauma, and the return to a ‘more efficient version of American imperialism’

The Vietnamese-American author Viet Thanh Nguyen’s second novel, The Committed, is the sequel to his celebrated debut, The Sympathizer, a spy thriller set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war that was both a New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2016 Pulitzer prize for fiction. The Sympathizer established Nguyen as both a literary star and an advocate for displaced people around the world. In The Committed, his unnamed protagonist arrives, as a refugee, in 1970s Paris, looking to shore up his identity on a diet of drug-dealing gangsterism and poststructuralist theory. Nguyen is a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity, and comparative literature at the University of Southern California as well as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

You’ve written about the ease of writing your first novel. How was it sitting down to write your second with a Pulitzer under your belt?
It was certainly more challenging, not necessarily because of heightened expectations but because of the publicity around the Pulitzer. I got very distracted doing interviews and lectures and all of that. With The Sympathizer I had two years of total concentration because nobody knew who I was. With The Committed, I had to write it in bits and pieces with lots of interruptions.

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We read books to my daughter from birth, which enriched all our lives

A difficult pregnancy meant the only item I dared buy for my unborn child was a book. When she arrived we read it to her every day

Nine years ago, I gave birth to a little girl. And now that little girl has grown into a bookworm. It began, as all stories about books should really begin, in a bookshop. I was several months pregnant and I picked up an American picture book I had never come across before: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. It featured a poem that my husband and I would end up reading, oh, I don’t know, at least 900 times. The book became such a pillar of my daughter’s nightly routine that by the time she could talk, I realised she knew it by heart.

It also marked a turning point for me. I had been finding the pregnancy hard. Various complications meant it was high risk, and there was a good chance I would not manage to carry my baby to term. This knowledge weighed heavily in my heart while, in my womb, Flora was literally doing somersaults for the sonographers, happily oblivious to my concerns.

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Andy Serkis: ‘I used to walk on all fours preparing to be Gollum’

The actor, 56, on growing up in Ruislip and Baghdad, becoming famous in Lord of the Rings and falling in love with mountaineering

I grew up in a combination of suburban Catholic Ruislip and Baghdad. My mum, who is 50% Iraqi, lived in Baghdad with my three older sisters until I was born. My father, who was a doctor and 100% Iraqi, stayed in Baghdad to build a hospital, but we used to go and visit every summer. I’ve never been a typical Iraqi. My mum brought us up to think of ourselves as British.

My last memory of going to church was on Christmas Eve, when I’d had one too many advocaats and I ended up walking up the aisle with a kebab to take communion and being told to leave. That was pretty much it for me. From that point on, religion seemed a bit pointless.

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Spanish farmers deeply split as ban on hunting wolves is extended

The predators, protected in the south, are widely blamed for attacks on livestock but some think coexistence is possible

“There have always been wolves. We humans have hunted and killed all the animals around us because we want everything for ourselves,” says Laura Serrano Isla, who tends her flock of 650 sheep near Burgos in north-west Spain.

“We think we rule the world but if we kill all the rest of the animals, the wolf will come for our livestock.”

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Will Spacs, the new trend in buyouts, take off in the UK?

Looser rules may allow the cash-rich, acquisition-hungry shell firms to succeed in London, but investors will need protecting

Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal does not at first glance seem to have much in common with the UK’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak. While the American sportsman has endorsed Pepsi, the British minister recently confessed to an addiction to Coca-Cola. But last week’s budget suggests they agree on at least one thing: both have jumped on the special purpose acquisition companies (Spacs) bandwagon – the hottest trend in finance.

Spac sponsors – often celebrities such as O’Neal – raise money for a “blank-cheque” company that lists on a stock market. The company then hunts for a privately owned business to invest in. A reverse merger offers the private company quick access to capital and a route to the stock market that is cheaper and easier than a traditional flotation. Once the process is complete, those who bought into the Spac can keep the investment or sell once the purchase is revealed.

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‘You think: are we really doing this?’: how TV’s strangest shows get made

Who green-lit The Masked Singer, or dreamed up a dating show about Prince Harry? Insiders reveal how madcap ideas go from page to small-screen sensation

Nine years ago, TV developer Park Won Woo was taking a break in a car park after shooting auditions for a South Korean talent show. He had worked on number of similar programmes throughout his career, but had come to feel uneasy about their format. “They’re not always fair,” he recalls thinking, because on numerous occasions, people seemed to win because of their looks, not their talent. A solution popped into his head: what if the singers wore masks?

For three years, nobody wanted Park’s show, the idea for which evolved to feature celebrities behind the masks. The 48-year-old had 24 years’ experience in the TV industry, but his idea was rejected by network after network. “I felt sheer desperation,” he tells me.

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A Bullingdon in reverse: how working-class student club is taking on elitism

The 93% Club, begun at Bristol University by a state-educated student, is snowballing nationally, with big firms now taking note

Sophie Pender was the first in her family to go to university and believed what her mother had always told her – in a meritocracy you can use education to rise above your family circumstances.

For Pender, this was perhaps more important than for most students leaving home for university. Her childhood had been deeply affected by her father’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. “We lived on a council estate in Borehamwood and had very little money. My mum did her best. But Dad was violent, and things had become so bad there were panic buttons in the house connected to the police station to protect us should he try to visit.”

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Brighton v Leicester: Premier League – live!

9.37pm GMT

79 min: Brighton sub: Maupay departs, on comes Danny Welbeck.

9.36pm GMT

78 min: Leicester look more likely here. Brighton struggling to make much of note with Lallana and Maupay both quiet.

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England’s young guns learning on the job speaks to a systemic failing | Andy Bull

While India’s Virat Kohli talked up the contribution of his newer players, Joe Root admitted his charges have a way to go yet

There was a weary inevitability about the last day of the series. England 10 for one, 10 for two, 20 for three, 30 for four, the wickets dropping like tired eyelids, loss washing over them like sleep falling on an exhausted man.

It leaves their winter split neatly in two: three handsome victories – two in Sri Lanka by seven wickets and then six wickets, and one in India by 227 runs – followed by three ugly defeats by 317 runs, 10 wickets and an innings and 25 runs.

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Safety-first plan for big games is defining Solskjær’s roundhead Reds | Jonathan Liew

First face second in the Manchester derby on Sunday – and yet has ever a game between the Premier League’s top two sides ever felt so essentially inessential?

The look on Sir Alex Ferguson’s face was a curious mixture of disbelief, shock and amusement. “You can’t believe that scoreline,” he said. “First 45 minutes, we were outstanding. The sending off was a killer for us. And after that, we kept attacking. That’s the nature of Manchester United, fine. But it was crazy. Unbelievable.” And then, remarkably, he smiled. Because even though Manchester City had come to Old Trafford and dished out a 6-1 trouncing, Ferguson somehow sensed amid his disappointment that the fundamentals of his side would survive this single freak result.

Of course, Ferguson had numerous advantages his successors in the job would not: a better squad, fewer challengers, the reputation and job security that allowed him to go about his work largely as he pleased. Nonetheless, it is a point worth noting: even a 6-1 humiliation at the hands of their closest rivals did not force Ferguson into amending his approach in big games.

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Star-studded Saracens shipwrecked by Cornish Pirates’ set-piece power

Compelling 25-17 victory for underdogs against Sarries proves the RFU must support the cash-strapped Championship

They would definitely have been dancing in the sunlit streets of Penzance, honest. Even without a crowd, though, this was one of the all-time great Cornish rugby days, more than worthy of a sea shanty or two when the local pubs can reopen. For anyone who has ever felt English rugby’s mandarins should pay more attention to those outside the Premiership, it was similarly sweet. Cornish Pirates 25 Saracens 17. Just let that scoreline sink in for a while.

Related: Exeter thump Bath as England flanker Sam Underhill returns from injury

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Lewandowski hits hat-trick in Bayern’s comeback triumph against Dortmund

The champions Bayern Munich came from two goals down to beat Borussia Dortmund 4-2 on Saturday with a hat-trick from Robert Lewandowski, to remain two points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

Related: Bayern Munich 4-2 Borussia Dortmund: Bundesliga – as it happened

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Exeter thump Bath as England flanker Sam Underhill returns from injury

  • Bath 16-38 Exeter
  • Chiefs score six tries to fight back from 13-0 down

Exeter’s biggest victory here looked at one point as unlikely as Worcester mounting a title challenge. They were 13-0 down and were being given the runaround by a team buoyed by the return of the England flanker Sam Underhill, who thwarted the Exeter’s first attack by winning a penalty on his own line.

England have yet to find their feet in this year’s Six Nations so the return of Underhill, performing under the gaze of the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, was timely. He was playing his first match for two months after recovering from a hip injury and lasted 48 minutes before being replaced.

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are costly albatrosses weighing their clubs down | Jonathan Wilson

Willingness to believe in the cult of the winner is worsening the plight of Barcelona and Juventus

On Tuesday, Juventus might overcome a 2-1 deficit against Porto in the Champions League. On Wednesday, Barcelona almost certainly won’t come back from 4-1 down to beat Paris Saint-Germain. Both clubs were comprehensively outplayed in the first legs, both are burdened by an ageing and expensive superstar, both have found the cracks in their financial planning exposed by the pandemic. At some point the narratives of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will decouple, but not now, not yet.

Football deals badly with mortality. It can be brutal in dealing with those with whom it has finished. Bill Shankly couldn’t even tell Ian St John to his face when, after eight years, the time came to drop him. After 11 golden years, Nobby Stiles wasn’t given a testimonial by Manchester United. West Ham reneged on a deal to let Bobby Moore leave on a free transfer. As the former Coventry and Derby manager Harry Storer once told Brian Clough, in football “nobody ever says thank you”.

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Football Index customers furious as terms alterations spark market crash

  • Price falls follow 28 days’ notice of drop in dividend payments
  • Firm says decision to cut dividends ‘unfortunate but necessary’

Thousands of customers with money trapped in Football Index, the self-styled “stock market of football”, have reacted with fury to significant changes to the site’s terms and conditions, which prompted the latest in a series of crashes in its market when the site reopened for trading at 7am on Saturday.

The Observer reported in January that Football Index, shirt sponsors of Nottingham Forest and QPR, had suffered a series of price crashes on its exchange, where users can buy and sell “shares” in footballers and receive “dividends” based on their performance.

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In the battle of Meghan versus the Firm, who do we cheer on? How about neither… | Catherine Bennett

The highly dysfunctional family has plenty to fear from the Sussexes’ television interview

Maybe it’s modern, maybe it’s reckless self-harm, maybe it’s the pervasive influence of RuPaul. Whatever explains Buckingham Palace’s new line in taunting abdicators – basically, missing you already, bitches – it must have seemed like a promotional miracle to the makers of the imminent Oprah-Sussexes interview.

Related: For Meghan Markle, leaving Britain must seem more and more like the right choice | Afua Hirsch

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The ‘soulless corporation’ look – yes, it’s Amazon on the high street | Barbara Ellen

Till-free convenience is all very well until the bill eventually arrives at home

I may be a retail misanthrope, but are the till-free Amazon Fresh shops a depersonalised step too far? At first sight, the basic concept (wander in, wander out, get charged later) looks tailor-made for me.

I already don’t need much shopping “face time”. I was never one for going 1950s-walkabout with a wicker basket collecting items from different artisan shops, served by smiling central-casting shopkeepers, straight out of a Happy Families card deck. Each to their own: if people get their kicks cosplaying Camberwick Green, then good luck to them. Though you have to wonder if this nostalgia is their own or, rather, a borrowed memory from parents or grandparents.

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Where have all the bands gone? Well, he’s in one

The Maroon 5 singer ruffled feathers with comments about the decline of groups, but going it alone is easier and cheaper

Adam Levine, frontman of Maroon 5 – and let’s face it, if “name any member of Maroon 5” were a question on the final round of Pointless, you’d be forced to say Adam Levine three times and watch the prize money disappear before your eyes – has been talking to Zane Lowe of Apple Music about his nostalgia for bands.

Levine said he felt as if bands were “a dying breed” and that he wished there were more of them. “It’s funny, when the first Maroon 5 album came out there were still other bands. I feel like there aren’t any bands any more, you know?” he said.

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Fear itself is the real threat to democracy, not tall tales of Chinese AI | John Naughton

Stoking panic about China’s dominance is just another way for western technology giants to avoid scrutiny and gain power

This week the American National Security Commission on artificial intelligence released its final report. Cursory inspection of its 756 pages suggests that it’s just another standard product of the military-industrial complex that so worried President Eisenhower at the end of his term of office. On closer examination, however, it turns out to be a set of case notes on a tragic case of what we psychologists call “hegemonic anxiety” – the fear of losing global dominance.

The report is the work of 15 bigwigs, led by Dr Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Alphabet (and before that the adult supervisor imposed by venture capitalists on the young co-founders of Google). Of the 15 members of the commission only four are female. Eight are from the tech industry (including Andy Jassy, Jeff Bezos’s anointed heir at Amazon); two are former senior Pentagon officials; and the tech sector of the national intelligence community is represented by at least three commissioners. Given these establishment credentials, the only surprising thing is that the inquiry seems to have been set up during Trump’s presidency, which suggests that it was organised by the “deep state” during the hours of one to four AM, when Trump was generally asleep.

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If we want poor children to catch up, England must look again at grammar schools | Fiona Millar

The only exam allowed to go ahead in the pandemic was the 11-plus, which labels more poorer children as failures

Amid all the Covid upset, one significant but barely noticed change took place this year: Northern Ireland, the last national bastion of academic selection, was forced to abandon its 11-plus “transfer” test.

Thanks to the pandemic, a tradition that has divided generations of children was tossed aside at a stroke because it was simply too difficult to manage reliably in a national lockdown. For the first time in more than half a century all Northern Irish schools have been obliged to find alternative ways to admit secondary pupils.

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My Derry Girls and Bridgerton roles show women our complex, eejit selves on screen

No one would give a note asking Walter White to be sweeter – so why should women on TV be appealing?

In the noughties, I adored Sex And The City. Like women everywhere, my friends and I debated which of these four impossibly stylish, successful women we were – when the reality was a bunch of university freshers who drank Buckfast from the bottle and lived in hoodies. We probably had far more in common with The Inbetweeners, but there were no female Inbetweeners on screen to compare ourselves to. Where were the messy women? The loud women, the ones who were complete eejits?

When I got the script for Derry Girls many years later, it felt like being handed the holy grail. Erin, Orla, Michelle and Clare (my role) were the female characters I had been waiting for: properly funny, obnoxious, unlikable at times. I remember the show’s creator, Lisa McGee, telling us that she had received a note asking her to make Michelle (the gobbiest one) a little softer, less in your face, more palatable. Her response: why?

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Autumn budget last chance to fix social care funding, Boris Johnson warned

Sir Andrew Dilnot says solution cannot wait after opportunity missed in budget

A comprehensive plan to fix the social care crisis in England faces years of further delays unless Boris Johnson backs sweeping reforms this autumn, the government has been warned.

There was a backlash last week against Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, after his budget failed to mention social care. The prime minister has pledged to fix the broken system in which many people are burdened with astronomical bills to cover their care. The budget also failed to provide a cash injection into the current system, with experts warning that an immediate £1bn is needed.

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DfE awards new contract to firm behind England school meals voucher fiasco

Gavin Williamson’s department will have paid £615m to the French company despite warnings about its capacity to deliver

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, is facing criticism for awarding another £190m contract to a company blamed for the problems with a school meals voucher system that left families without food during the first lockdown.

The French company Edenred’s new contract, revealed on the government’s website, appears to bring its total income from the scheme to £615m since the pandemic began. A previousHowever, the actual amount spent on it is understood to be considerably less. An earlier investigation into the scheme by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that previous contracts had been signed with the company despite “limited evidence” of its capacity to deliver. Edenred said every pound of the new contract would be converted into an equivalent amount in vouchers.

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Murder inquiry launched over missing woman and child as Dundee man charged

Bennylyn Burke, 25, from Gloucestershire, and her daughter last seen on 17 February

The disappearances of Bennylyn Burke and her two-year-old daughter, Jellica, are now being treated as a murder investigation, Police Scotland said. A 50-year-old man from Dundee has been arrested and charged in connection with the deaths of Burke and her daughter. Officers are still searching for their bodies.

The 25-year-old mother and her two children were reported missing from their south Gloucestershire home on Monday 1 March, having been last seen on 17 February. Burke’s other child has been found and is being supported, according to police.

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MI5 involvement in drone project revealed in paperwork slip-up

Exclusive: Document produced by university cited agency as secret funder of research

For an agency devoted to secrecy and surveillance, it is an embarrassing slip-up. An inadvertent disclosure on a university document has revealed that MI5 is partly behind what was meant to be a covert bug and drone research project.

Ostensibly, Imperial College’s research was to create a quadcopter system for charging remote agricultural sensors – but MI5’s participation has emerged because somebody involved stated it was the secret second funder of the programme.

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Justin Welby condemns Nigerian archbishop’s gay ‘virus’ comments

Archbishop of Canterbury says Henry Ndukuba’s comments that homosexuality should be ‘expunged’ are unacceptable

The archbishop of Canterbury has issued a rare public condemnation of a fellow Anglican primate who described homosexuality as a “deadly virus” which should be “radically expunged and excised”.

Justin Welby, who is the leader of the global Anglican church, said the comments made by Henry Ndukuba, the archbishop of Nigeria, were unacceptable and dehumanising.

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NHS body in England urges minority ethnic people to fill out census

Completing survey is vital to ensure access to health and care services, says Race and Health Observatory

An independent NHS body is urging black and minority ethnic communities to complete this year’s national census survey to help capture a more accurate picture of the overall health condition of households across England.

The independent NHS Race and Health Observatory has called on minority ethnic communities to complete the online survey sent by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) by Sunday 21 March, or shortly after.

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