The last few years have been a real heyday for Asian American literature. There have been blockbuster film adaptations of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Celeste Ng’s unstoppable suburban drama Little Fires Everywhere, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer win for The Sympathizer, and critically lauded novels from Susan Choi (Trust Exercise) and Ling Ma (Severance), just to name a few.
The movement continues with one of 2019’s hottest books, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel from Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong. Boasting endorsements from Marlon James and Tommy Orange among others, it landed at number six on the New York Times Best Seller list in its first week out and has met with near unanimous praise from critics.
I’m here to tell you, the hoopla is warranted. This is a novel that stopped me in my tracks several times over, causing me to pause, linger, and reread passages immersed in metaphor and linguistic insight. Directed to his illiterate manicurist mother, On Earth is the coming-of-age tale of Vietnamese refugee Little Dog. Set in Hartford, CT, it is a story of becoming and being American, of family, and of first love (between Little Dog and a white farmer’s grandson). But really, plot isn’t the point of this book. Words are. And Vuong’s words are gorgeous, through and through. This is clearly the work of a poet, and I mean that in the best way.
For fans of lyrical literary fiction, immigrant stories, LGBTQ+ stories, and #ownvoices works that capture America in the 21st century.