[Afterland] reminds us what a distinctive instrument the human imagination is...Afterland works its wonders with an intentionally rationed vocabulary, its counters combined and recombined in poem after poem...The style creates an atmosphere of impending marvels, and many of Vang’s poems perform, in words, the transformations that they describe...[Afterland] is among the most satisfying débuts by an American poet in some time.
—The New Yorker
...From the first page, the writing is visceral and potent...Throughout, Vang keeps the energy ratcheted up to the tightest turn of the wrench. VERDICT An especially accomplished debut—it won the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, a first-book publication prize—this is important reading.
—Library Journal ★ Starred Review
—Shelf Awareness ★ Starred Review
...Mai Der Vang’s the historian of her ancestors from a burned world...Nothing is engineered or manipulated — line after line flow like a satin ribbon burning at each end with terrible truths...This writer makes it happen now with powerful indictments and reprisals in language where, after reading, nothing will ever be the same. This is a blazing book with lyrics that aspire to Mai Der Vang as a major luminary.
—Washington Independent Review of Books
—LA Review of Books
In her poems, specters follow refugees like heirlooms, as painful and haunting as they are cherished; mourning and memory are the watchwords for dispossession …she writes about prehistory, loss, and the importance found in remembering it…Vang…succeeds in capsulizing her ancestors’ war-torn identity and consequent diaspora. We now know that traumas are genetically heritable—they’re not isolated instances but cascades of generational grief. What can’t be erased can be overwritten, but only if the pen is bold enough. Vang’s certainly is.
—The Paris Review
—Los Angeles Review
Vang’s glitteringly fragmented, endlessly ramifying verse in Afterland does not yield easy answers, but its depiction of history as a gaping mouth whose exhalations condense on the undersurface of the floor of the present moment is a chilling and necessary lesson for our times.
Vang’s voice is uniquely mature for a debut collection, with undeniable authority over her language. Seductive in its other-worldliness—though threatening too—Afterland is not a rural homespun collection of middle America...The language will haunt you, the broken images will attach themselves to the back of your mind with their sharp, crooked edges.