In my experience, the cluster of days between one year’s end and another’s beginning are ripe with reflection. I can’t stop myself from cataloguing losses, gains, and lessons learned before drafting a new chapter. I wonder if this is common for others who also read as many coming of age novels as I did during their own coming of age. I have my suspicions that these formative interactions with bildungsromans developed my own (often unreliable) narrator who inspires me to stare out at large bodies of water thinking (self-indulgently): “The waves hadn’t changed. Had she?”
The themes of self-reflection and growth are abundant in this episode’s conversation about Ocean Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019). Our 38th reader and I sat down (and later took a short walk) on a windy autumn afternoon to speak about their intimate connection to Vuong’s work, prose style, and personal history. Our conversation touches on the importance of authentic representation in literature, the impact of intergenerational trauma on families who have experienced war, navigating and embodying queerness in the face of violence, young love and coming of age stories, the pursuit of tenderness, and the importance of showing up for yourself.
“There’s something about the difficulties in life that also informs the joy that we experience. I think this is so relevant throughout this book because there are so many moments of joy. The last line of the book is his mom laughing in joy. Reading that, it just really shook me to my core. Wow. Yes, life can be really difficult, and there are ways in which our hearts may break and we may experience violence and trauma, but they also can be ways that shape us to be the person we always dreamed we could be, and still experience joy in our lives, and still deserve to experience that joy. I thought it was a really powerful way of ending such a beautiful story… it was so tender.”
I hope you enjoy this playful and intimate conversation with a friend of mine and are inspired to pick up Vuong’s work, be it one of his poetry collections (listed below) or his debut novel. Happy Reading!
Poetry Collections by Ocean Vuong
- The Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016)
- No (2013)
- Burnings (2010)
The Author’s Perspective and Process
Further Reading & Watching on the Vietnamese-American Experience
- Little Saigons: Staying Vietnamese in America (2009) – Karin Aguilar-San Juan
- List of resources from UCLA Library website: https://guides.library.ucla.edu/c.php?g=180400&p=1191257