Tag Archives: Ocean Vuong

My Favorite Fiction Books of 2020

May 2, 2021

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

Last year was a record year of reading books for me. Devouring 52 of them was an unintended consequence of Covid-19. As such, I wanted to write about the fiction books I enjoyed the most for today’s post on TSOG.

First of all, these books were not published in 2020. I simply happened to discover and read them last year. They are new to me.

Secondly, I will do my best not to give away any spoilers.

1. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

This book was recommended to me by a friend whose taste in such matters is deeply trustworthy, and of course, it has become my favorite work of fiction of 2020. This novel is as much a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story as it is a poetic tour-de-force. Vuong’s writing is lyrical and full of emotional depth. Themes of queer adolescence and self-discovery, healing from a family’s post-war trauma in Vietnam, and the uphill climb of being a family of immigrants in America are intricately woven into this delicate and haunting narrative. The world through Vuong’s eyes is not rose-tinged, but with such tenderness and vulnerability, it is absolutely gorgeous nonetheless.

2. A View Across Rooftops by Suzanne Kelman

By now, I have read numerous books about the holocaust of Nazi Germany during World War II. This particular story takes places during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during the war. Kelman is adept at creating characters who I wanted to cheer on as I kept reading. Its protagonist, Professor Josef Held, decides to hide one of his Jewish students in his attic to protect him from getting killed. This decision sets off a tense and gripping page-turner of a book. When we explore the human capacity for compassion in moments of grave danger, we get fantastic stories like this one. The view from inside this novel’s pages is well worth seeing.

3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

I am new to the world of James Baldwin, but I see why his books and talent are revered all over the world. This novel details the complexities and challenges of two men in love at a time when such a thing could never be admissible. The heart of this novel lies in the subtext of its dialogue and in its quiet moments in which anguished silences betray all that is unspoken. It is a masterful gift to convey something deeply meaningful without actually saying it. Baldwin’s prose is a flow of tension and emotion that we feel, and in this story, the feeling is everything.

4. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I have heard of this author a few times, and I’ve been curious about the genre called magical realism for a while. I started reading with an open mind, and this book felt a lot like falling through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. The book’s protagonist is reluctantly thrust into an odyssey of a world that is hidden in plane sight. I could describe it as quirky, unique, and unconventional, but these adjectives fall short of the truth. It is a psychological mind fuck—in a good way, but not quite in a pleasurable way either. There is trickery, thievery, and tiny moments of whimsy that give this book a fullness of life—with the continuous sensation of the unexpected lurking just around every corner. It makes for a bewildering and wide-eyed reading experience. Murakami’s voice is staggeringly and stubbornly one that follows its own offbeat rhythm. The journey along this novel’s pages is unlike any other.

5. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

What I loved about this novel was how it cleverly wove haunting folklore, mysticism, and a story of human struggle together so completely. The pacing never lagged for an instant, and it felt adventurous and suspenseful. At its core, this novel presents a search for identity and belonging. It features complex characters who are forging their own way through life despite immense obstacles. The scenic backdrop of sleepy villages and farming towns of rural Malaysia give its story a richness and charm that make this novel all the more enchanting.

I hope you enjoyed checking my top fiction books from 2020. Check back next Sunday when I kick off my new series of Roqué’s Sunday Book Reviews.

Happy reading to you all!


Roqué Recommends: New Suggestions for Books, Films, and Music to Enjoy

August 17, 2020

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

As I noted in last week’s post, we are all stuck in quarantine one way or another in this age of the Coronavirus. Maybe you’re looking to be entertained, comforted, or inspired to help you cope with this new normal? Well, I have some suggestions for you. When I am not making short films for my YouTube channel every week, I seek out various forms of entertainment and inspiration. I generally stay away from television and episodic-style shows because of all the time they take up, but beyond that, everything else is fair game.

The following recommendations align with my tastes and sensibilities. Have a look at some of them and try them out if you are intrigued.


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
by Ocean Vuong

I loved this book. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I understood within the first few pages why it became an instant New York Times bestseller. Particularly if you are a poetry enthusiast, you will truly appreciate what author Ocean Vuong has written. This book is a poetic memoir about Vuong’s upbringing as a Vietnamese immigrant who migrated to America with his mom to live with his grandmother and auntie in Connecticut. His entire family lives with the trauma sustained from the Vietnam War, and this book chronicles the healing (or lack thereof) from such a devastating set of circumstances in the war-torn villages of their homeland. Family struggles and an immersive first love between two boys fill this book’s pages with many tense and tender moments. If you’re looking for something fun and lighthearted, this is not the book for you, but if you are looking for a masterful work of nonfiction that is as transcendant as it is honest and brutal, give this book your full attention in a quiet space.

The Night Tiger
by Yangsze Choo

Twists and turns, whimsy, and intrigue infuse this novel that is set in 1930’s colonial Malaysia. There is a mysterious and terrifying beast roaming through small villages at night and slaughtering the bodies of villagers beyond recognition. If this sounds a bit too gruesome, rest assured that it’s only one component of this beautifully written story that intertwines the lives of two separate characters who you will find yourself cheering for and worrying about until the end. I’m not going to give anything away, but I enjoyed reading this book for all of the exotic adventure and rich mystery that it brings.


by Taylor Swift

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never been a big Taylor Swift fan. I can appreciate her talent as a singer and songwriter, but outside of a couple of lovely ballads and catchy pop songs that I liked from previous albums, there has not been anything in her output that has fully gripped my attention. Fast forward to this summer with the surprise release of her new album “Folklore”, and I found myself listening to many of its songs and buying a vinyl copy of the album. One song in this collection has been on repeat for me, and if the summer of 2020 had a personal soundtrack, this song would be its centerpiece.

Swift’s vocals subtly shift between lilting resignation and plaintive vulnerability in a delivery that finds a tonal sweet spot that is perfect for this song. It is a quiet and pensive marriage between melancholy and hopefulness. Personally, everything about this song is reminiscent of something Tori Amos would manifest down to its engaging piano riff. The lyrics convey a conflicted longing for a childhood past and a desire to recapture the spirit of those times. The song crescendoes at the end with piano and strings taking center stage in a gorgeous melodic outro. This song is a gentle work about innocence lost and the promise of possibility. It is a piece of art from an artist finding new heights in her craft. I was not expecting to find such an unassuming little masterpiece as this, but I am quite happy to have it now.


This Beautiful Fantastic

I have a thing for movies that are sweet and whimsical. Recently, I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole that led me to this film, and thank goodness for occasional rabbit holes. This film has a lot of elements that I generally enjoy such as beautiful gardens, intelligent British people, striking and rich set designs, and obsessively neurotic characters. Its story embodies a personal journey that a woman experiences in order to find her own footing in the world . Central to the plot is an elderly and certifiably grumpy misanthrope who becomes a mentor and friend to his neighbor. He teaches her how to become a gardener. An unlikely cast of characters forms a family around this relationship. So much about this film—from its script to its colorful aesthetic, performances, and cinematography—is incredibly well done. If you share my sensibilities, watch this movie. You’re welcome.

There you have it. These are some of my recommendations for you to enjoy. Whatever you choose to do, be safe and kind to yourself.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

My newest film release is a preview of “The Preservation of Self”, which is a short film I created that comes out on my birthday on 08/28 and expresses some more of my thoughts about colonialism. Have a look right here: