On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ocean Vuong
Genres: Poetry, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Ocean Vuong

I was intrigued by this book, but it wasn’t super high up my TBR. However, I loved listening to the author’s voice in the audiobook sample, so I decided to read it. I’m so glad they got the author to narrate this one because I’m not sure anyone else could really have done it justice.

Initially I really liked it. The writing is poetic and it flowed really nicely. The author’s reading is emotional and I enjoyed listening to it, but I must admit, parts of the book were over my head and left me wondering how I should feel about it.

The book is crafted as a letter to the protagonist’s mother. It’s unclear to me whether this book is fiction or non-fiction, so I’d love some insight from other readers if you have it. It certainly read like non-fiction and I internalized it as such, but it could have been fiction.

Initially I liked that it was a letter from son to mother, Little Dog talks about the relationship he had with his mother and how it impacted him emotionally as he grew up. How their Vietnamese past influenced his childhood in America and shaped all of his relationships with his family members.

From there, Vuong moves on to the relationship Little Dog had with his friend Trevor and the struggle of being not only an immigrant, but a confused gay teenager. I found many parts of the story upsetting, but really appreciated their inclusion in the book and thought it brought a great depth to Vuong’s story. However, it did affect my reading of the book as a letter from son to mother. This format worked really well when confronting his childhood demons and the relationship with his family, but I thought the format had less meaning when it got into Little Dog’s exploration of coming to terms with his homosexuality. I don’t have the lived experience to really comment on its effectiveness, but personally I just found the ‘letter to mother’ format lost some of its potency in this part of the book. Just a comment on format, not content.

Mostly I’m left confused on how to rate the book though because parts of it were definitely over my head. I’ve been reading a lot more poetry lately (I used to never read it), but I definitely still struggle with the accessibility of poetry. I want to love it, but I think I just haven’t spent enough time reading poetry to really understand the nuance of it. I really enjoyed the writing, it was flowery, but not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it’s just so overloaded with metaphors that I kind of missed out on the point. I really liked a lot of this book, but there were definitely some sections where I found myself tuning out.

Overall though, a very thoughtful book and debut for this young author, so well done! I would not be deterred from reading his stuff in the future.

Advertisements

June Monthly Challenge

I was too busy in May to do a monthly challenge and I actually really missed it. I love the flexibility of just being able to pick any book you want off the shelf, which I rarely do anymore between my challenges, book club, and netgalley reads, but I felt like my reading was a bit aimless without any reading goals to work towards in May.

I’m super excited about my June reading challenge though and I think I’ve picked out 3 great books for it. Historical fiction was my favourite genre for many years, but I’ve been a little fatigued with it over the last few years because I feel the genre is over-saturated with WW1 and 2 novels and books about slavery. So I got a lot more into fantasy and discovered all these YA fantasy series that have huge online followings, but I am starting to get a bit fatigued with this genre now because while there’s so much out there, once you start reading a lot of it, it tends to get a bit repetitive.

In an effort to branch out a little more again and return to a genre I love, I’ve decided that in June my monthly challenge will be to:

Read 3 Historical Novels

It was really hard to narrow it down to just 3 books, because I do have a huge list of historical novels that I’ve been wanting to get to, so I tried to focus on reading about stories set in different countries and different time periods. The three books I picked are:

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
2. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhorn
3. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

 

I read Kristin Hannah’s other bestseller, The Nightingale, in 2015 with my book club and we all really liked it. My book club liked it a little more than me because this was when I was really getting fatigued with the WW1 and WW2 books, but I did still like it. The Great Alone is her new book and has been getting fantastic reviews – I bought a copy on sale in February and I’ve been trying to get to it ever since. I don’t like to know too much about my books when I start reading them, but this is set in Alaska in 1974 and examines the aftereffects of a former Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War when he returns to Alaska.

I Was Anastasia is a fairly new release, but I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this one since I first saw a synopsis of it months ago. This is actually my book club selection for June, so I’m happy to be able to combine two of my reading lists this month. This is a WW1 book, but bear with me because this sounds different than any other WW1 book I’ve ever read! It’s about the grand duchess Anastasia and her supposed execution with the rest of the Romanov’s during the Russian Revolution. There’s always been speculation that Anastasia may have survived and in this novel, a young girl shows up in Germany 3 years later claiming to be Anastasia. Was anyone else obsessed with 20th Century Fox’ version of Anastasia growing up? Because I was and I am super excited for some bestselling, historical fiction about her! I’m on a journey to the past with this one folks.

My last pick of the month is a brand new, not-yet-released book that I only heard about recently. I’m not even sure where I first heard about Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I think Goodreads may have featured it in one of the lists of their blog, but it sounds so good. It’s a debut novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras that was inspired by her own life growing up in the 1990’s in Colombia. It’s a coming-of-age story during a period of great upheaval and violence in Colombia and features a piece of history that I am not knowledgeable about and haven’t seen featured in historical fiction before. A big thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, who happily provided me with an advance copy of this book so that I could include it in my monthly challenge.

A Life Update

Hello!

First of all, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for supporting this blog as I’ve been getting up and running over the past few months. It’s been a lot of fun for me and I’m loving sharing all my bookish thoughts. Please continue to like and comment on my posts as it helps generate more traffic on my site and I love talking all things book related!

April has been a bit of a whirlwind month for me – I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering over the past few weekends and this week I’ve been running all over town trying to get everything I need to go on vacation! Tonight I’m leaving Canada and I’m heading off to Vietnam for about 3 weeks with my boyfriend to do some exploring and sightseeing! I have a few book reviews queued up from the past week or so that I’ll try and post while I’m away, but I’ll be switching over to my other blog, The Road Goes Ever On, for the next few weeks to post about my travels (before I got into book reviews, I was a travel blogger)! If you’re interested in following along in my travels, you can do so on my other blog 🙂

So there may not be many reviews over the next few weeks, but I’ve still got a ton of books queued up on my kindle for those plane and train rides along the way.

Thanks for all the love!

Maria

The Refugees


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Viet Thanh Nyugen
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories, Historical Fiction
Read: April 2017

 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this collection of short stories. It didn’t deliver what I was expecting and at times I found it slow moving and pretty boring. However, it did offer a different perspective on the experiences of refugees, that while different from my expectations, was still valuable.

The Refugees featured in Nguyen’s stories were all from Vietnam and had all eventually settled in America. I expected this collection to focus on refugees who were attempting to flee their homeland or trying to build new lives in America. However, most of the stories took place years after the refugees had settled in America and in some ways didn’t even feel like stories about refugees.

I thought that Nguyen’s stories about a wife whose husband is suffering Alzheimer’s, a man who meets his liver donor, and a father who travels to Vietnam to visit his daughter studying abroad weren’t stories that were unique to refugees – they easily could have happened to anyone. During a time when many Americans (and Canadians) are afraid of refugees, I thought Nguyen’s stories were an important reminder that refugees are normal people who build lives, put down roots, and contribute to society in the same way as everyone else. Unfortunately, they are just people who have been forced to flee their home country, often due to horrifying circumstances.

While I didn’t love all the stories, there were some that I enjoyed. I sympathized with Mrs. Khanh, whose husband was slowly forgetting their past together and her horror when he begins to call her by an unknown woman’s name. I felt Phuong’s frustration when her privileged half-sister returned to Vietnam and won her father’s affection but refused to help her create a better life. And I understood the mother who was conflicted at giving her hard earned money to what she believed to be a lost cause, but couldn’t say no to another mother mourning her husband and son.

Overall this was still a decent read, but I would recommend The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui over this one, which I loved! It’s also a refugee story about a family fleeing Vietnam for America, but I felt much more connected to the characters.