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About The Book

Fifteen years after his best-selling, award-winning collection of stories The Boat, Nam Le returns to his great themes of identity and representation in a virtuosic debut book of poetry

36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem, says Le, a Vietnamese refugee to Australia, is ‘the book I needed to write. The book I've been writing my whole life’. This book-length poem is an urgent, unsettling reckoning with identity and the violence of identity, embedded with racism, oppression and historical trauma. But it also addresses the violence in those assumptions – of being always assumed to be outside one’s home, country, culture or language. And the complex violence, for the diasporic writer who wants to address any of this, of language itself.

Making use of multiple tones, moods, masks and camouflages, Le’s poetic debut moves with unpredictable and destabilising energy between the personal and political, honouring every convention of diasporic literature – in a virtuosic array of forms and registers – before shattering the form itself. Like The Boat, 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem conjures its own terms of engagement, escapes our traps, slips our certainties. As self-indicting as it is scathing, hilarious as it is desperately moving, this is a singular, breakthrough book.

'Nam Le takes the English language to pieces and reassembles it with a virtuoso ease not seen since Finnegans Wake' J.M. Coetzee

'A masterly performance' David Malouf

'These poems seethe and sing' Cathy Park Hong

About The Author

Supplied by the author

Nam Le’s poetry has been published in The Monthly, The Paris Review, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Bomb, Conjunctions, Boston Review, Lana Turner and Tin House. His short story collection The Boat received numerous major international awards, including the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the Melbourne Prize for Literature, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. The Boat has been republished as a modern classic and is widely translated, anthologised and taught. Nam Le lives in Melbourne.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner Australia (February 28, 2024)
  • Length: 80 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781761423369

Raves and Reviews

‘36 Ways slices at certainty with rage, humour and tenderness. Read it even if you’ve never gone near a poem in your life – for the relentless instability, generous intellectual tapestry, and for the last few pages: a slow, beautiful ambush that made me want to lie down and die (in a good way).’

The Guardian

36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem is an exceptional collection; vivid and clear, fierce and succinct. I was profoundly moved by the truth of it.’

Salena Godden, author of Mrs Death Misses Death

‘Each poem in 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem stings as if Nam Le burned syllables onto the page with a pyrographic pen. These poems seethe and sing; they restlessly shapeshift as Nam Le tries to find a mode of speech or form that could capture the violent history of war and the experience of deracination. But the English language stops short and he captures that gap – and the unspeakable realms of racialized consciousness – with virtuosic and ineffable beauty.’

Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings

‘With a cool outsider’s eye, Nam Le takes the English language to pieces and reassembles it with a virtuoso ease not seen since Finnegans Wake. There is wit aplenty, of a dancing, ironic kind, but the fury and the bitterness that underlie 36 Ways come without disguise, as do its moments of aching love and loss. Nam Le is a poet working at the height of his powers. Each of his 36 poems comes with its own explosive charge; taken together, they are capable of shaking Western self-regard to its foundations.’

JM Coetzee, Nobel laureate 2003

‘Exquisitely crafted fire bombs of incandescent rage. Moving and powerful.’

Nick Cave, author of Faith, Hope And Carnage

‘Le’s verve and uncanny ear for language drive this stunning collection that explores the varied and often tense ways of living as part of the Vietnamese diaspora. The book simultaneously dismantles linguistic and hegemonic forces of violence which plague the diasporic condition and threads a fine lyric in which I felt deeply moved. In Le’s poems, I am both witness and can find myself in the larger tapestry. This book is fine electricity.’

Diana Khoi Nguyen, author of Ghost Of

‘A masterly performance. With defiant playfulness and wit Nam Le dramatises for us (for “You”) the challenging contradictions of being a writer in the “Unself-consciousness” of the Vietnamese diaspora.’

David Malouf, author of Remembering Babylon

‘Nam Le’s exhilarating 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem is not just highly inventive but deeply compelling. The lively poetics of the book goes something like this: “The house in my head / I name home. / Though where I’m really from / The dead bird stays dead.” The poems move swiftly in a kind of syncopated telegraphic language creating a direct confrontation with all that they interrogate, braiding language, culture, translation, migration, history, and poetry itself. The writing is lyrical, musical, intelligent, and beautiful. It’s a great book.’

Peter Gizzi, author of Fierce Elegy

‘Where do we locate meaning when we know a word can collapse in on itself at any moment, leaving just the earthy music at its core? Somehow these poems have me dancing above that sinkhole, flirting with its mayhem. Nam Le’s debut collection 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem is, like the poet, a chimera of ferocious wit, lyricism and play. But this book is deadly serious. Le leaves no doubt that he means it. He means every word of it.’

Gregory Pardlo, author of Spectral Evidence

‘From the opening lines, I knew this book would gut me. I wasn’t wrong. 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem is an exhaustive examination of the complex stew of emotions every displaced person experiences. In Nam Le’s deft hands, deep scholarship is transformed into a nimble, nuanced romp, replete with devastating wit, sonic acrobatics, and superb mouth feel. I’ve been waiting for this book all my diasporic life.'

Barbara Tran, author of Precedented Parroting

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