What does it mean to live between cultures, languages and genders? That’s something Vietnamese American author Ocean Vuong knows well. In his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, he explores colonial history and his own personal experiences to tell a coming-of-age story — and so, since the Fourth of July is coming up, we asked him to recommend some books that highlight the immigrant experience, in America and around the world. Here are his picks:
Slow Lightning, by Eduardo C. Corral
When I think of Eduardo’s work, I think he’s the quintessential poet’s poet, but that doesn’t mean his work is obscure. This book particularly is haunted by the immigrant experience on the border. Corral comes from parents who are Mexican immigrants. And there’s a sensibility of, what is an American body that comes through migration and great loss? This book is filled with mourning and grief. It’s an elegy to the lives lost crossing the border. The tragedy of immigration to America is in a sense the tragedy of human life for the dream.
So Corral is a writer that cares both for the poetic line, but also for the bodies that he writes about, for family, legacy, culture and what it means to be American. I go to this book again and again, and to me, it’s a masterpiece. The Spanish here has no glossary, it has no end note, it exists on the same footing as the English words, right? In a sense, it is an enactment of the sensation of walking through America.