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Book of the Other: small in comparison

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A furious, multiform examination of the devastation wrought by anti-Asian racism in America Truong Tran’s provocative collection of poetry, prose and essays is a stunning rebuttal to the idea of anti-Asian racism as a victimless crime. Written with a compulsion for lucidity that transforms outrage into clarity, Book of the Other resists the luxury of metaphor to write about A furious, multiform examination of the devastation wrought by anti-Asian racism in America Truong Tran’s provocative collection of poetry, prose and essays is a stunning rebuttal to the idea of anti-Asian racism as a victimless crime. Written with a compulsion for lucidity that transforms outrage into clarity, Book of the Other resists the luxury of metaphor to write about the experience of being shut out, shut down and othered as a queer, working-class teacher, immigrant and refugee. What emerges from Tran’s sharp-eyed experiments in language and form is an achingly beautiful acknowledgment of the estrangement from self forced upon those seduced by the promise of color-blind acceptance and the rigorous, step by step act of recollection needed to find one's way home to oneself.


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A furious, multiform examination of the devastation wrought by anti-Asian racism in America Truong Tran’s provocative collection of poetry, prose and essays is a stunning rebuttal to the idea of anti-Asian racism as a victimless crime. Written with a compulsion for lucidity that transforms outrage into clarity, Book of the Other resists the luxury of metaphor to write about A furious, multiform examination of the devastation wrought by anti-Asian racism in America Truong Tran’s provocative collection of poetry, prose and essays is a stunning rebuttal to the idea of anti-Asian racism as a victimless crime. Written with a compulsion for lucidity that transforms outrage into clarity, Book of the Other resists the luxury of metaphor to write about the experience of being shut out, shut down and othered as a queer, working-class teacher, immigrant and refugee. What emerges from Tran’s sharp-eyed experiments in language and form is an achingly beautiful acknowledgment of the estrangement from self forced upon those seduced by the promise of color-blind acceptance and the rigorous, step by step act of recollection needed to find one's way home to oneself.

45 review for Book of the Other: small in comparison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Truong Tran’s book in broad strokes is centered on a lawsuit against a university that repeatedly failed to hire him for tenure despite his qualifications and in the last round ultimately losing out to an under-qualified white applicant. "Book of the Other" (BOTO) is both a remarkable act of resistance (an act of calling out a nearly all-white academy for their discriminatory hiring practices rooted in racism, nepotism, and fierce need to foster white voices, white narratives, and white under-qu Truong Tran’s book in broad strokes is centered on a lawsuit against a university that repeatedly failed to hire him for tenure despite his qualifications and in the last round ultimately losing out to an under-qualified white applicant. "Book of the Other" (BOTO) is both a remarkable act of resistance (an act of calling out a nearly all-white academy for their discriminatory hiring practices rooted in racism, nepotism, and fierce need to foster white voices, white narratives, and white under-qualified professors that underscore a Euro-centered ideal of white excellence) and an act of love (for other minority writers who continue to go unheard, and who are tokenized and valued for their ethnicity, for their color, and elevated simply for their culture’s commodification). Tran’s lyricism is sharp, think a butcher blade through dense meat that is then neatly packaged in pink paper for your immediate consumption. It’s heavy. Plain. Thick. It is an unforgiving language. The difficulty of reading BOTO is also linked to its appeal. It is poetry that forgoes pretension, a straightforward expression and does not hide under poetic devices, or ‘veils’ of intention/meaning. It is unflinchingly honest, in form and function.For example, the book exists without punctuation except for the period. Even apostrophes don’t exist. The period mark as symbol echos sentiments of being targeted, of being the center of a bullseye (an image that is reflected in his cover and is a nod to Tran’s fine art installation work comprised of building hundreds of wooden bulleyes), of the full-stop breadth of grief, the finite period of addressing someone bluntly, of punching a bully, of being firm with language, of forgoing politeness, and being candid with truth, with reality. The period is the final mark of the end. In the end, the book deciphers what it means to be a person of color in ongoingly white institutions of power, the unapologetic power to choose who can be hired to tenure track, who will get insurance benefits, who will be published, which students will be heard, which teachers will be shepherded, what voice will dominate and which will end. The firm stop of the period is housed in BOTO. It is unlike any other book I have ever read. It is a beautiful book. A necessary work for these times. So yes, I recommend it. So will you.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura Joakimson

    and what is poetry if not the truth. and what is the truth if not a voice. - Truong Tran This is a searing book of poetry especially FOR everyone and anyone who has or will experience workplace discrimination, gaslighting, silencing. Anyone who has not (yet) experienced this might not realize the courage it takes to tell the story of what happens under the story. Of what it's like to be told not to talk about your feelings about discrimination in work emails. To have your work taken for granted, and what is poetry if not the truth. and what is the truth if not a voice. - Truong Tran This is a searing book of poetry especially FOR everyone and anyone who has or will experience workplace discrimination, gaslighting, silencing. Anyone who has not (yet) experienced this might not realize the courage it takes to tell the story of what happens under the story. Of what it's like to be told not to talk about your feelings about discrimination in work emails. To have your work taken for granted, used by others sometimes without credit. And for another candidate who is inside the clique (white and has personal connections) yet less objectively qualified to get the job. The poet repeatedly references facts and not feelings. A lawsuit even. Words from that lawsuit's discovery. Yet what girds the telling of these facts is deep feeling. The searing pain that comes not only from being told to be silent but of silencing the self in order to aid the comfort of [white people]. Institutional silencing. This is a book I plan to keep on my shelves forever. I was involved in a complaint once against my employer. In a workplace meeting a white male coworker said that when a woman in a nearby department got a promotion he wanted to kick her in the *ss. He proceeded to stand up and make kicking motions. He had also been sent to anger management for screaming at my female boss. He had screamed at me as well, repeatedly. But when I went to HR they told me that I shouldn't worry. When he received a higher raise and the offer of a promotion in the same year that he made those comments and I complained again, on my next review I was told that I was not meeting expectations in any of the nine workplace values (collaboration, influence, emotional intelligence, development, accountability, leadership, achievement, innovation, or critical thinking) and I was placed on a performance plan to admit the error of my ways or to be fired. I was privileged enough to be able to leave that toxic work environment where I had been for seven years. I can only imagine the struggle for Tran continuing to work in a university where he is not valued nor seen. I wish him great success for this book which, if the powerful cannot see themselves in it, the less powerful surely will. One more quote that haunts me and that should haunt all of us (white--especially!) a series of questions addressed to you. first and foremost. would you say we are friends. if you were walking down the street. and you saw that i was fighting. with not one but two rather large individuals. a man and a woman. it was not a fair fight. i was getting my ass kicked. in case you're wondering. they are indeed white. let me remind you that in this inquiry. ive made the assumption that you are a friend. or a colleague. or perhaps even both. would you stop to intervene. if you saw from an arms length. that one guy had a knife. i was about to be stabbed from behind. would you shield me from that blade. would you clutch it with your bare hands. would you inform the authorities. would you scream or shout. so that our world could see. what was happening. would you stand next to me. would you hold my hand. would you be my witness. would you testify in court. would you say he is innocent. just to be clear. would you say that i am innocent. could you bear to look. are you willing to see. before you answer. let me be as clear as can be. this is not a poem. there is no room for the abstract. if you were walking down the hallway. attached to a room from where you once sat. as a peer. or as a student. perhaps at one point. we shared an office along this hallway. if you saw me fighting for my livelihood. my life. would you stand next to me. a series of questions to you. who i am still calling colleague. if not friend. where are you. is it worth it. why wont you look. is this worth the price of not seeing. of not wanting to see. is this worth the price of not saying.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anhvu Buchanan

    This book changed my life. Truong speaks for himself and for all of us. I'm glad people are hearing and learning of his story. What happened to Truong was wrong and I'm glad he's standing up and not letting himself be silenced any longer. Please read this powerful powerful book. This book changed my life. Truong speaks for himself and for all of us. I'm glad people are hearing and learning of his story. What happened to Truong was wrong and I'm glad he's standing up and not letting himself be silenced any longer. Please read this powerful powerful book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm)

    "this is written. from where i stand. from who i am. from what see. from how. i perceive. how i am seen. I am writing from the inside. of this body. looking out. I am writing from a corner of this room. looking towards. a hollow center. I am writing from this stall. looking through a glory hole. I am writing. from the outside. looking into the house. the rooms are painted. a modern tint. of white." Truong Tran was passed over for tenure multiple times at the university where he lectures and each "this is written. from where i stand. from who i am. from what see. from how. i perceive. how i am seen. I am writing from the inside. of this body. looking out. I am writing from a corner of this room. looking towards. a hollow center. I am writing from this stall. looking through a glory hole. I am writing. from the outside. looking into the house. the rooms are painted. a modern tint. of white." Truong Tran was passed over for tenure multiple times at the university where he lectures and each time, a white man connected to the department head—her husband, their copy editor—ultimately got the position, no matter whether they are qualified or experienced for it. His book, an excellent and understated form-agnostic collection of "essay. prose. poems. antipoems", has been written as a response to his constant "othering", his being made to feel "less than", and his being expected to be grateful for the crumbs thrown at him. It is "retelling as a way of existing": avoiding the abstraction of language, the flimsy disguise of metaphor, eschewing the constructed creativity which is the privileged province only of "dear white". This is a text written by someone who is rarely given a voice, who is always forced to explain himself. It is meant to generate discomfort, to make the reader sit with it and then examine it. This is a recounting of facts because "the other" is not afforded the truth who is writing as an ongoing act of resistance against a constant erasure of body and spirit. As Bhanu Kapil says in her Preface, "Truong Tran [articulates] without performing trauma and without making that trauma beautiful, precisely how the [white] space is designed to function, and what it is like to inhabit it in a body intensely porous to both perpetration and silencing." It is a rebellion against being reminded of "his place" and it tenders a "proof of existence in this world that tells "the other," again and again, that the story of their body, [of their experiences], is not real." It's written in both the first-person and the second-person present tense. The "you" interchanges from being the reader(s)—either an empathetic audience or a body of white "peers"—to the inner poet persona, Tran conversing with himself or yet another white interlocutor. It is always wresting back the ownership of self. The amount of white space doesn't escape notice, especially considering most pages contain a single paragraph taking less than half its length. The looming threat of being consumed by whiteness is ever-present. Tran's prose "poems" employ no other punctuation apart from full stops which are emblematic of walls and barriers, either already existing and/or newly constructed. They wondrously defy the full stop's injunction of cessation, negate the prison of the period as their sentences stretch beyond the boundaries—the clauses split and broken off as language opens to a variety of radical possibilities. It is a revolt against finality, against silence, linguistic repetitions working as a bulwark against the repeated acts of epistemic and ontological violence. (I received a finished copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is a book unlike any that I’ve ever read. Truong Tran is a refugee from Saigon, but he makes it clear that he is also a California boy who grew up in the Viet community of San Jose. He has the toughness of a refugee and the stories, but as a poet, visual artist and adjunct instructor, he is also a savvy interlocutor of the genteel racism and classism of the SF Bay Area and its universities. In this book, he purposefully refuses the kind of stories and imagery white and non-Asian readers ten This is a book unlike any that I’ve ever read. Truong Tran is a refugee from Saigon, but he makes it clear that he is also a California boy who grew up in the Viet community of San Jose. He has the toughness of a refugee and the stories, but as a poet, visual artist and adjunct instructor, he is also a savvy interlocutor of the genteel racism and classism of the SF Bay Area and its universities. In this book, he purposefully refuses the kind of stories and imagery white and non-Asian readers tend to expect and want to consume from Vietnamese writers, and it is clear that he is resisting being turned into a commodity, and yet his writing in this book is always as compelling as his other poetry collections and his children’s book. The Book Of The Other: Small in Comparison is an anti-poem in that it is also documentation and memoir/essay, and the book pointedly refuses expectations of what a poem should be. Deliberately idiosyncratic and obsessive, it documents racism and discrimination in a way that is undeniable and immediately relatable, even if you are not Asian. The narrator steadfastly refuses the contrivance of character growth-arc—they damn well won’t come to accept what is unacceptable. One of the important premises of the book is that once “it” happens it keeps happening. What it is: racism, nepotism, forced acquiescence and silence, the demanded state of perpetual foreignness, is up to the reader to decide.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Kwak

    This book is not small, but rather a mighty clap back to a university that would shut down his effort to pursue a tenured position and not acknowledge his gift as a teacher, writer, and artist. His voice is singular and his ability to take this reader on a journey of his lived experience as a “queer, immigrant, refugee” fighting for 15 years to claim space as a teacher while others who received tenure with far less experience is in itself the crux of why it captured my attention. I am grateful t This book is not small, but rather a mighty clap back to a university that would shut down his effort to pursue a tenured position and not acknowledge his gift as a teacher, writer, and artist. His voice is singular and his ability to take this reader on a journey of his lived experience as a “queer, immigrant, refugee” fighting for 15 years to claim space as a teacher while others who received tenure with far less experience is in itself the crux of why it captured my attention. I am grateful that this story was told with brutal honesty and vulnerability with a poet’s voice and soul. I believe that this is a book for anyone who has been “othered” and as Tran writes this is a book for those “who cannot afford the luxury of metaphor.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Truong Tran’s BOOK OF THE OTHER is a searing and powerful look into the way institutional racism pervades communities, classrooms, and everyday life. This book peels back layer after layer until we discover ourselves at its center in everything we do and are—often beautiful, often ugly, often both. This book takes to task the banal insincerity inherent in wokeness-as-social-currency, the empty violence of silence, and it reminds us that neither “the right thing” nor people are monolithic—every m Truong Tran’s BOOK OF THE OTHER is a searing and powerful look into the way institutional racism pervades communities, classrooms, and everyday life. This book peels back layer after layer until we discover ourselves at its center in everything we do and are—often beautiful, often ugly, often both. This book takes to task the banal insincerity inherent in wokeness-as-social-currency, the empty violence of silence, and it reminds us that neither “the right thing” nor people are monolithic—every moment is a new one and with it comes a choice to change and grow and become better humans to one another. It’s painful, true, and heartbreakingly urgent. It’s fierce and beautiful and funny and sincere. Do yourself a favor and please read this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mihee Kim

    This is a necessary read for anyone who believes in the power of the Othered voiced.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    The best book of poetry I have read all year.

  10. 5 out of 5

    T J

    Truthful words, one after another. Don't start until you have at least 24 hours to devote to reading it. These poems can open blind eyes, raise the dead, heal the sick, and inspire us to take the risk of authenticity. Truthful words, one after another. Don't start until you have at least 24 hours to devote to reading it. These poems can open blind eyes, raise the dead, heal the sick, and inspire us to take the risk of authenticity.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mari Lewis

    This is one of the most interesting and intense reading experiences I’ve ever had. The style was incredibly jarring and thus effective. The repetition struck me as acting like recurring intrusive memories. It’s a hard text to get my head around. At times I found myself reading the short statements aloud to myself quietly to keep to the tempo. I’m so glad this book, and all it contains, was written.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Britta

    This brave book is a protest, a poem, an antipoem, an essay, a memoir, a deliniation of grievances, an assemblage of gut-punching stories that leaves you icing the bruise and investigating your own role in the damage long after its pages are closed. In it, Truong Tran pulls us into the spiral of his lived experiences of both institutional racism and the everyday, commonplace accretion of small in comparison racist remarks, actions and inactions. This book refuses to gloss over, hide in metaphor This brave book is a protest, a poem, an antipoem, an essay, a memoir, a deliniation of grievances, an assemblage of gut-punching stories that leaves you icing the bruise and investigating your own role in the damage long after its pages are closed. In it, Truong Tran pulls us into the spiral of his lived experiences of both institutional racism and the everyday, commonplace accretion of small in comparison racist remarks, actions and inactions. This book refuses to gloss over, hide in metaphor or look away. It is a f*** you, as well as an invitation to take off the blinders and start doing what's in your power. A stirring and important anti-racism read. Get it. Read it. Share it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cole Cline

    incredibly intense and uncompromising.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Davis

    This is a seething, powerful masterpiece, and I would make every single person I know read it, if only I had that power.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erin Towner

    This didnt affect me like it did other readers, but I think Truong Tran seems like a lovely person. I'd like to take one of his classes. This didnt affect me like it did other readers, but I think Truong Tran seems like a lovely person. I'd like to take one of his classes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deanna Ly

  17. 4 out of 5

    Austin Nguyen

  18. 5 out of 5

    6r36.v1073t

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Wyrd Witch

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chantal

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nita

  24. 4 out of 5

    Julia Babiarz

  25. 4 out of 5

    evan

  26. 4 out of 5

    fina.reads

  27. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

  28. 5 out of 5

    Colin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Oma

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  31. 5 out of 5

    Briana Grogan

  32. 4 out of 5

    Ching-In

  33. 5 out of 5

    Ana Maria

  34. 4 out of 5

    Kat

  35. 4 out of 5

    Shuang Han

  36. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Valdes

  37. 5 out of 5

    Winston

  38. 5 out of 5

    Truong Tran

  39. 4 out of 5

    Candice

  40. 4 out of 5

    Maddy Nguyen

  41. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  42. 4 out of 5

    Zenchick

  43. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  44. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  45. 4 out of 5

    Mona Goodwin

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