by Ocean Vuong
Reviewed by Linda:
A faculty member in the UMass MFA Program and recently named a 2019 MacArthur Fellow, Ocean Vuong earned comparisons to Emily Dickinson with his first book, a collection of poetry. For his second, he turned to autobiographical fiction written with the soaring language of a poet. Like the author, the narrator, Little Dog, was born in Vietnam to a family scarred by its wartime past. The family arrives as refugees to Hartford when Little Dog is only a toddler. This novel is a letter to his mother who is illiterate. (The novel contains many such jarring instances.) In it he shares with her his reflections on his childhood in a traumatized household and on his first love, an impoverished white boy whom he met while harvesting tobacco. Throughout he explores the themes that have shaped him: an imperfect but still meaningful family, violence past and present, racism, homophobia, poverty.