Cover Image: Dear Diaspora

Dear Diaspora

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I need to preface this review saying that while once in my life, I was an avid devourer of poetry, that’s not so much the case anymore. However, I was still grateful to have the opportunity to read and review this thoughtful collection of poems. 

This poetry collection intrigued me enough to continue on reading despite me being rusty in poetry as there was a focus on themes like generational trauma, the immigrant (specifically the Vietnamese refugee) experience, self-identity, complex family relations and the overarching theme of grief.

The poems in this collection that focused intrinsically on those themes were stunning. The words that the author strung together to express all these complex emotions boiling away left me really relating and the simplicity of the language structure let me also insert myself into the text with my own similar experiences – especially when the author wrote about feeling like an outsider. 

However, due to the varying lengths of poems in the collection, some of the weaker poems (in craft, not content matter) made me feel somewhat discombobulated in the transition from poem to poem, especially when there was a transition between Suzi’s experiences and the descriptions of those lose during the War.

The author is clearly a gifted storyteller and I can’t wait to see what she writes in the future!

Special thanks to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange for my honest opinions.
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I do think this was a strong poetry collection, but it wasn't quite what I expected from the book's description. The collection follows one character throughout most (all?) of its poems, so I was going in with the expectation of a structure that wasn't really there. While I truly enjoyed some of the poems, others were too abstract for my taste, and pulled me out of the narrative, so to speak. That said, if you're someone who isn't looking for that structure (or if you just really like abstract poetry) this is a well-written choice.
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It is always sucha pleasure when a poet experiments with form in the way that Nguyen does here. From the hyper personal lyric to the one-on-one epistolary and the hyper public documentary poetics, Nguyen explores each gradation of the diasporic experience with language and identity. Each formal experiment is deeply tied to questions of family and trauma. Nguyen expertly captures both the interiority and the exteriority of life stranded between two cultures.
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I found this poetry collection deeply moving and unapologetic. The style of poetry is very contemporary, playing with the format and form of individual poems. They still form a cohesive plot and were very easy to read through.
This collection is for fans of more straightforward poetry, rather than a style rich in metaphor and imagery. The author balances it well with the poems' subject matter, packing a punch by the end of every one.
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Susan Nguyen offers a refreshing new voice in poetry with Dear Diaspora.  A memorable collection of poems filled with love and emotion, you won't want to miss out on this book.
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I found it nearly impossible to put down this poetry collection! I was drawn by the imagery Nguyen created. 

Overall, what made me enjoy the collection was Nguyen's exploration of language, memory, and grief. The three seemed inexorably tied throughout the collection. Several poems are about communication and human interaction. How do we explain ourselves to others? Do we understand others? How effective is language to communicate the self? Not only does the collection question the use of language but also the function of memory. How do we remember things? What does it mean to remember things when triggered (not necessarily negatively) by an outside object or person? Do the memories of our family count as our own? Finally, how do we deal with loss--both the loss of someone who isn't dead and the loss of memory?
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*Thank you to Netgalley and University of Nebraska Press for providing me with an ARC.*

This short poetry collection explored various thoughts on the immigrant experience and themes of identity, family, and grief. Some poems on their own were just okay, offering snapshots of a moment or feeling, but I liked the variations on recurring poems such as "Letter to the Diaspora" and "You Google Vietnam" which appeared throughout the book. It was interesting to flip through and re-read each set on its own, without the in-between poems. In the case of "Letter to the Diaspora" hope, frustration, grief came through, highlighting the various emotions and ever-changing relationship the author and other immigrants have with their immigrant identity and the world they live in.

With "You Google Vietnam", I was reminded of how often people of color are forced to do their own research to learn about their history and their people because what is written in history books is the history that the dominant (read: white) culture chooses to present. This journey is never linear and often full of painful revelations.

"The Boat People", which was SUCH a powerful epistolary piece, tied into this idea of learning about one's own culture through a Google search after hearing a racist term. This piece dove deeper, each section revealing more and more of the realities and horrors that the Vietnamese 'Boat People' faced on their escape from the violence of their home. The different perspectives through the "interview" sections give us a glimpse into what various individuals who survived the journey experienced, while the "obituary" sections show the reality of the conditions that killed so many others. The choice to present these things in a very factual manner, without an excess of flowery language or reflection allows the reader to experience and react to these scenes and ideas in their own authentic way. For some of the other poems however, there was a bit too much distance and lack of emotion, given the content.

This collection is short and can be read quickly, but I would recommend taking time to truly absorb the experiences that are depicted in these poems.
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Dear Diaspora is a collection of poems by Susan Nguyen that focuses on the intersection of immigration and adolescence. It is the winner of the 2020 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and it is Nguyen's debut. Dear Diaspora will be published in September of 2021.

Some of the poems were rather abstract and it was difficult for me to find an entry point. I don't mind being frustrated and having to work to understand a text, but I can see some readers giving up. "Beast Angel" was a rather challenging poem and I'm not sure I gleaned much from it. However, I do recognize that these poems are not specifically for me because I have not had the same experience, and feelings of alienation are to be expected. My favorite poems in the collection are "The Boat People," "Questions I've Never Asked My Father," and "Inventory." I like the way the Nguyen played with format and style in each of the poems. "Boat People," begins with "She googles F.O.B. after someone calls her fresh off the boat. She has never been on a boat." The poem then illustrates what one might find after researching the so-called "boat people," and the subsequent stories of refugees and people trying to escape a life of imprisonment under a harsh regime. It is an extremely powerful poem and it caught my breath at times, especially when reading the obituaries and interviews. "Questions I've Never Asked My Father" illustrates the complexity of the immigrant experience and captures the struggles through her questions and what she has learned about her father. The most important question is written simply enough, "what would life be like if you'd chosen differently/the one with the blue door/the black railings." Of course, I assume she is asking the broader question, "What would life be like if you'd chosen differently?" If they hadn't come to the come to the United States. Finally, I liked "Inventory" for the motif of memory and the play on words on the last page, "Bich" and "bitchbitchbitch." Nguyen captures so much in that final page, feelings of anger, frustration, inquisition, and grief. 

I would recommend this collection of poetry to anyone who likes reading about the refugee experience or who enjoys some abstract, challenging poems. Thank you to Net Galley for the ARC!
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"Language cannot express all memory, those that are not wholly present, that exist at the edges, so that you only recall in small moments of brilliance, when someone shows you a picture, a place where you were present and your body took up space, acted and moved and was acted upon and you realize you would never remember your body there if it wasn't for this other to unlock this small part living in you but separate from you. How can this be?"

3.5 ✨

I've rarely read poetry collections that center on the same character, but Susan Nguyen does just that in Dear Diaspora by taking us on a journey through the eyes of Suzi. The poems vary in format and length, but mainly focus on themes of generational trauma and the refugee experience. Each poem reads as a reminiscence and feels like an autobiographical recount written in Nguyen's timely and moving style. 

Side note: love the colors on this cover!

Thanks to NetGalley and the University of Nebraska Press for providing me with this ARC!
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Dear Diaspora is a collection of poems that is both subtle yet powerful. Reading this book felt like peeking through a curtain as I observed the experience of one who comes from a Vietnamese immigrant family. Its a plethora of poems that deals with various themes; identity and a sense of belonging, beauty standards, family issues and the like. You have some poems that are very intimate and personal to the author's experience of growing up, and you have some that focuses more on the Vietnamese experience as a whole. 

What I truly loved about this book was that through its modern style of writing, and simplistic choice of words, it captured well the feeling of isolation and confusion of being one whole of two halves. 

Favorite Poems: Letter to the Diaspora (all of them!); Most Noble, Heroic, and Virgin Lady
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This book is absolutely incredible and I recommend it for anyone who likes poetry. I read it in one sitting and will definitely be coming back to it. Dear Diaspora is a prime example of why poetry is such an incredible form when pushed to its limits. Each poem vibrates with emotion and life. There's such a rich litany of topics being explored: identity, loss, grief, love, family, memory, war—all heightened by the masterful wielding of language. 

I love the connections between poems, they make the collection so cohesive. I could quote a hundred lines that I loved but I'll just leave these from "If I say My Body Is Grieving" and "Grief as a Question".

"My father said: In our language, the same word means green and blue: xanh"

"Do you have a permit to sit under the sky?

green is the color of my ecstasy"
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This is a beautiful collection of poetry that has amazing overarching themes. The imagery and language used are very reminiscent of  lê thi diem thúy's "The Gangster We Are All Looking For." As an immigrant myself, I related to a lot of the overarching themes and feelings of both loss and being an outsider. This book uses a lot of dense imagery and leaves a lot to the imagination while still creating a cohesive narrative. I quite enjoyed how the different poetic structures were interchanged a lot because it kept me engaged as a reader. Although I believe overall a lot of the poems' theme's truly resonated with me, I was not attached or left with the memory of one specific image. (In short, many of the images weren't memorable. I believe this would be a lot more effective if there were fewer overall motifs and symbols. My only other critique is that in poems (such as in Inventory, You Google Vietnam, and Suzi as a Series of Questions) the beginnings of the poems didn't naturally transition to the overall point of the poem. The first few lines often felt out of place. Otherwise, I enjoyed the rich complexities and the web of ideas Dear Diaspora created.
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when everything that landed on me weighed nothing

I love this collection! I think this collection is brilliant, thoughtful, it's not rushed like so many modern books of poetry. It's incredibly sincere and personable, you know who Susan Nguyen is and you can feel as though you are walking in her shoes. I found the whole collection incredibly relatable. I can honestly say I think this is one of my favorite poetry collections I've encountered in recent memory. It's exceedingly cohesive. She takes you through (what I interpret) her own suburban American upbringing and contrasts it with the nostalgia, suffering, and cultural history of her family. It's just simply a really beautiful collection and I'm so happy to have read it.

Through a tiny sliver, the moon spoils the dark.

Some of my personal favorites: The First Language, Letter to the Diaspora (1), If I Say My Body Is Grieving, The Boat People, Suzi Doesn't Miss Her Father, Suzi as a Series of Questions, and Unending.

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for the opportunity to read this and provide my honest review.
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Nguyen’s poignant collection is visceral, it is evocative. These poems regard privilege (or lack thereof), what it means to belong, grief, and the infamous american dream from the pov of an American-Vietnamese girl (presumably a rendering of Nguyen’s own self) and, somewhere in the middle of it all, Nguyen/the speaker desires to procure the language to describe it all. I particularly found those poems (the ones that dealt with language) the most deliberate and striking in this collection, tying many of the themes together, solidifying the title of this collection.  Holistically, though, I think the poems could have flowed a little bit better from start to finish. 

Generally, I think the poems weren’t just good they were great, poetic, and timely and inspiring. I look forward to reading more from Nguyen.
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Not all poetry collections work for everyone, and I'm perfectly happy to admit that this one just wasn't really for me. I mean that literally; I genuinely think that only people who have a specific diaspora experience will really connect to this one, and that's not a bad thing. It speaks beautifully to that particular experience. Nguyen's language is haunting and evocative, and some of her imagery is so visual that it was almost like watching a film. Some of it was just so abstract that I couldn't grasp it at all, though, and those poems left me wanting. I'm willing to acknowledge that this is most likely entirely a Me problem. Nguyen is an incredibly talented poet, and honestly, I would absolutely devour a novel (even a novel-in-verse!) written from the perspective of Suzi, the mouthpiece character in this collection. Give me a book by Nguyen which has a little more structure and something more tangible for me to grasp, and I'm right there.
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This collection of poetry was interesting to say the least. I read it in one sitting as I normally do with poetry collections. I ended up having to go back and read the collection again to gather my thoughts for this review. I feel like the collection was very scattered and hard to follow. I feel like this collection needed more structure so that it was easier to understand where the poet was coming from. I was really hoping for more out of this collection however, I did find a few poems in the collection that I really did enjoy. If the poet writes anymore collections I would try their work again in the future.
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Dear Diaspora is a powerful collection of Vietnamese author, Susan Nguyen's, experiences with growing up, femininity, and the diaspora. Throughout the collection, audiences witness Suzi ripping out her leg hairs with duct tape, trying to understand her father's disappearance, and attempting to love herself the way she looks.

Earlier this year, I spent quite a bit of time discussing and engaging with texts from authors Honorée Fannone Jeffers (through her collection, The Age of Phillis) and Tiana Clark (specifically, her collection I Can't Talk About the Trees Without the Blood). Nguyen reckons with selfhood in the same way that Jeffers and Clark do, but as any successful poet does, she puts her own spin on it and creates a new perspective that many readers may not have encountered before. 

I really loved this collection. I thought the different formats of the poems created the feeling of confusion that is often associated with grief and trauma. Nguyen approaches topics like generational trauma in an understandable, yet widely relatable way. This collection opens the door for some very important conversations about immigration (specifically when it comes to the refugee experience), mental health, and selfhood versus identity formation.

Overall rating: 5/5

Dear Diaspora will be available for purchase on September 1st. Be sure to add it to your Goodreads shelf and see where it's available for purchase. Also, be sure to check out Susan Nguyen's website!
I was lucky enough to be able to listen to this Advanced Reader's Copy through my partnership with NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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Dear Diaspora talks about Vietnamese immigrants, their identity and grief. The poems were unique and powerful, however I couldn't understand many of them (maybe because I couldn't relate to any of them). It also introduces us to Suzi's journey of refugee experience and the disappearance of her father. 
It was a short and interesting read for me that I read in one sitting. 
Thank to you Netgalley for ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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living on empty / for weeks and months / looking for coastline / that did not push back

Dear Diaspora was a mixed bag for me. While some poems were too abstract for my tastes and failed to leave an impression, others like The Boat People (line above) were powerful.

I felt the poems with a tighter focus on the Vietnamese culture/language/immigrant experience were the strongest. Those with a story behind them or grounded in simple language were a pleasure to read, but some of the poems were too esoteric for me.

I am not typically a big reader of poetry, but am still glad to have had the chance to read this. I am sure those who have a greater appreciation for poetry will enjoy it even more than I did.

Highlights: The Boat People, Ode to Hunger, Grief as a Question, If I Say My Body Is Grieving
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3.5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and University of Nebraska Press for providing me with an ARC copy of Dear Diaspora.

Dear Diaspora introduces us to Suzi: ripping her leg hairs out with duct tape, praying for ecstasy during Sunday mass, dreaming up a language for buried familial trauma and discovering that such a language may not exist. Through a collage of lyric, documentary, and epistolary poems, we follow Suzi as she untangles intergenerational grief and her father’s disappearance while climbing trees to stare at the colour green and wishing that she wore Lucy Liu’s freckles. Winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, Dear Diaspora scrutinizes our turning away from the trauma of our past and our complicity in its erasure. Suzi, caught between enjoying a rundown American adolescence and living with the inheritances of war, attempts to unravel her own inherited grief as she explores the multiplicities of identity and selfhood against the backdrop of the Vietnamese diaspora. In its deliberate interweaving of voices, Dear Diaspora explores Suzi’s journey while bringing to light other incarnations of the refugee experience.

I am aware these poems were not written for me but I think they were still important to read and enjoy.
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