book review: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong



Copper Canyon Press, 2016


Night Sky with Exit Wounds is an invigorating, razor-sharp poetry collection that meditates with both candor and artistry on themes of war, nationality, sexuality, and violence. Vuong, born in Vietnam and raised in the US, threads details of his own family history into his broader narrative verse that centers on Vietnamese identity. It’s a fierce, provocative, political, and sensual collection that I found both challenging and moving, and I’m looking forwarding to reading Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous even more, now.

The type of review that just quotes a bunch of passages tends to be my least favorite to both read and write, but I’ll break my own rule here because my own words feel rather inadequate next to these:

“How a horse will run until it breaks
into weather — into wind. How like
the wind, they will see
him. They will see him
when the city burns.”

– from Trojan

“Snow scraping against the window. Snow shredded
with gunfire. Red sky.
Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.

The city so white it is ready for ink.”

– from Aubade with Burning City

“He laughs despite knowing he has ruined every beautiful thing just to prove beauty cannot change him.”

– from Immigrant Haibun

“To love another
man — is to leave
no one behind
to forgive me.
I want to leave
no one behind.
To keep
& be kept.
The way a field turns its secrets
into peonies.
The way light
keeps its shadow
by swallowing it.”

– from Into the Breach

“Don’t laugh. Just tell me the story / again, / of the sparrows who flew from falling Rome, / their blazed wings. / How ruin nested inside each thimbled throat / & made it sing”

– from Seventh Circle of Earth

You can pick up a copy of Night Sky with Exit Wounds here on Book Depository.

15 thoughts on “book review: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

  1. Nice review and great selection of quotes! Glad to see you also enjoyed this, it’s one of my favorite poetry collections from the past few years. I’ve just started an ARC of his novel, and it’s really good too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Michael! So glad you enjoyed this as well. I’ve hardly read any poetry in the past couple of years but I imagine this’ll stay up there for me as well as I try to get back into it. I’ve got an ARC of his novel as well which is why I made a point of picking this up, hopefully I’ll be able to start that later this week!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, I tried to read this about a year ago and wasn’t sure I was getting on with it—I found the language beautiful but was having trouble seeing to what end…but maybe I didn’t spend enough time with it. I have also read some other books about Vietnam and the Vietnamese refugee experience between now and then, so I should probably go back to it and give it another try!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It improved as it went on for me! But I do know what you mean, it could have been a bit more cohesive as a whole but I found the language so mesmerizing that I ultimately didn’t mind very much. Do you have any good Vietnamese recs?


      • That makes sense — I will definitely revisit it! In terms of Vietnam reads, I read a few books last year focusing on the Vietnam War and really recommend The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, who fought for the North Vietnamese during the war — it’s a very surreal book but has haunted me since I read it, and it’s a good counterbalance to the more popular The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (which is also a really good read)…but I do think if I had to pick, Ninh’s is a more indelible account of the conflict. I also read The Best We Could Do last year, which is a good graphic novel about a woman reflecting on her parents’ experiences during Vietnam’s colonial period and later as Vietnamese refugees in America. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Sorrow of War and The Best We Could Do both sound brilliant! I’m sadly very under-read when it comes to Vietnamese lit or even non-Vietnamese accounts of the Vietnam War, though I’ve been meaning to read both The Things They Carried and Dispatches for a while now. But I’d rather read about the conflict from a Vietnamese perspective so those recs are perfect!


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