Poetry & Art

Ocean Vuong and Experimental Fiction

The much-anticipated release of Ocean Vuong’s experimental fiction novel has come and gone. One of the few LGBTQIA+ POC men who broke through the glass ceiling of traditional publishing. His work is a masterpiece. Reading through his first work of fiction I couldn’t help but feel this inexplicable connection with the main character. His struggles with his immigrant family, being POC in America and an especially strong connection with his mixed mother.

Backgrounds on the narrative reflecting Vuong’s life: “Ocean Vuong’s grandfather was a US soldier posted to Vietnam; there he fell in love with ‘an illiterate girl from the rice paddies.’ They married and had three daughters, but while his grandfather was visiting family in the US, the fall of Saigon forced the family apart. His grandmother, fearing her children might be taken for adoption in the States, puts her three girls into different orphanages, and they weren’t reunited until adulthood. Vuong’s mother worked washing hair in a Saigon salon and gave birth to him when she was 18. She was discovered to be mixed race, and so banned from working by the new communist regime before the whole family was evacuated to the Philippines under the sponsorship of a US charity. Vuong was still a toddler when, after months in a refugee camp, they were admitted to the US.” (The Guardian, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong review – portrait of the artist as a teenager).

Although I do believe the narrative takes aspects of Ocean’s life into account I don’t believe the book is completely autobiographical fiction. The author himself said when asked at his reading at Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas that the characters are loosely based on his background. The reader should not infer that the narrator or the other characters are a direct reflection of the people in his life.

His mother takes up an interesting space and represents a large portion of populations affected by the American invasions. Many children were conceived by American soldiers in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc and many of those children never got to get to know the fathers who left when the war was over. She is a perspective that is all too real to the world but it rarely discussed in fiction. I really enjoyed getting to know her character and the struggle of a half Viet half-white woman, who passes as white physically but not in any other aspect of her life. Her part of the narrative is somewhat tied to small instances where Ocean mentions Tiger Woods. There is a connection between them and the respective mixed backgrounds that flows through the narrative.

Overall the book is a successful experimental piece. The reader is engaged by the plot and narrative and matched with his beautiful poetic prose the book is nothing short of amazing. Although it is clear that fiction is not his primary genre, that doesn’t mean the book isn’t an amazing work of fiction.

by Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman

Tamara Al-Qaisi-Coleman a bi racial Muslim writer and artist. She is a graduate of the University of Houston with dual degrees in both English and History. She is the Administrative Coordinator at Writers in the Schools and the Marketing Director of Defunkt Magazine. She is especially interested in the subject of Middle Eastern History and culture and predominantly writes from the Arab-American perspective. She creates in a variety of genres and media. Her fiction publications include “Naming the Stars” in the 10th issue of Scintilla Magazine, “Akhira” in Issue 1 of Paper Trains Journal, “Gallery Blues” published in The Bayou Review: The Women's Issue. Her essay “Dying as an Immediate but not Permanent Reality in Love in the Time of Cholera” can be found in Glass Mountain, Volume 21. Tamara is also a visual artist, her work has been published in Cosumnes River Journal, and Sonder Midwest Review. She was the creator of Shards Magazine and maintained chief editorship for the inaugural through the seventh issue of that publication.


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