book review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong | BookBrowse

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ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS by Ocean Vuong
★★★★★
Penguin Press, June 4, 2019

 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, centers on Little Dog, the son of a Vietnamese immigrant mother and an absent father. Raised in present-day Hartford in a predominantly white community, Little Dog struggles from an early age to both assimilate with his peers and to honor his Vietnamese heritage, but here Vuong deviates from the standard immigration story blueprint in favor of something more darkly sensual and internal. As the story unfolds, the reader comes to understand that the novel is an elaborate letter written from Little Dog to his mother, though she will never read it, as she is illiterate: the story he tells her is consequently private and unsparing. “The impossibility of you reading this makes my telling it possible,” Little Dog confesses.

Read the rest of my review HERE on BookBrowse, and if you’d like a little more context on this book, you can read my piece on Vietnamese Amerasians HERE.


You can pick up a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous here on Book Depository.

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book review: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

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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
clearest
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.