A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure

Wave Books. Apr. 2021. 144p. ISBN 9781950268177. pap. $18. POETRY
Nguyen’s newest collection (after Violet Energy Ingots) is primarily a verse biography of her mother, Diêp Anh Nguyên, a stunt motorcyclist in an all-women Vietnamese circus troop in the 1950s and ’60s. The result is part archival history, as lost letters, photos, and possessions from her mother’s life are uncovered, and part historical exploration of Vietnam both before and after the Communist takeover. Amid meditations on Vietnamese music and language there are references to napalm, Operation Hades, and Operation Wandering Soul, providing historical context and insight into the devastation that occurred in the country during the Vietnam War. Ghosts appear throughout, like a purple áo dài ghost haunting the hallways of a high school; their presence expertly furthers the sense of loss and grief. Readers new to Nguyen’s poems will find that they as much about the blank spaces as they are about what is written on the page, brilliantly playing on language and conversation itself.
VERDICT While the collection feels at times deeply personal, it is also representative of loss as a whole, and readers will find pieces of themselves in this collection while also feeling themselves immersed in Diêp Anh Nguyên’s Vietnam. Recommended for all collections.
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