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UK Rights to Ocean Vuong’s Second Novel Snapped up by Jonathan Cape

By Sarah Frideswide


Ocean Vuong is a rising star of the international literary scene. A poet in the first instance, with two collections that have won multiple awards on both sides of the Atlantic, Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was published in 2019. It was a roaring success, with over a million copies being sold in forty languages across the globe. In the UK it was published by Jonathan Cape. They have been quick to snap up the rights to Vuong’s second novel, The Emperor of Gladness, which is due to be released next year. According to The Bookseller, other international rights have already been sold, including Dutch, German, Spanish and Catalan.


Jonathan Cape is a publisher that aims for quality and diversity. They try to look to the future and publish authors that may become classics later on. Their website says: “excellence, and a rebellious and courageous spirit, is at the heart of all we publish.” They try to find and champion young talent. It’s no surprise, then, that they would make a beeline for a rising star such as Ocean Vuong.


Vuong has an army of fans worldwide (his Instagram account has 309,000 followers) and deservedly so. His writing is powerful and covers themes which are compelling. His first poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, dives into family relationships, love, grief and the Vietnam War. His second collection, Time is a Mother, “searches for life among the aftershocks of his personal and social loss, embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while being determined to survive beyond it.” With these two collections, Vuong established his unique voice. His first novel built on the themes explored in Time is a Mother and looked at what it means to be a young, working class, gay immigrant growing up in America. He is likely to gain even more fans with his new book which branches out and will explore friendship, loss, and how much we’re willing to risk to claim one of life’s most treasured mercies: a second chance.”


Despite his relative youth, Vuong has no shortage of life experience, having become a refugee at only two years old when his mother was discovered to be mixed race in Communist Vietnam. When they moved to America, he was then raised by her, an illiterate nail salon worker who was determined that he would be able to read, write and go to college. His experiences navigating all of that, along with the diversity of his reading and his ability to combine “violence and delicacy” (The Guardian) have fed into a rich writing style that’s captivating to read. In a world of increasing turmoil, it’s easy to see why Vuong’s work speaks to so many, especially those of younger generations, living as they are in fraught times, with much of the stability afforded to older generations now gone. Vuong is a writer to watch. One who, notwithstanding his success to date, is only beginning to explore the breadth of his capabilities. We will be hearing much more from him in the future.  

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