On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
Author: Ocean Vuong | Publisher: Penguin Press
“Migration can be triggered by the angle of sunlight, indicating a change in the season, temperature, plant life, and food supply. Female monarchs lay eggs along the route. Every history has more than one thread, each thread a story of division. The journey takes four thousand eight hundred and thirty miles, more than the length of this country. The monarchs that fly south will not make it back north. Each departure, then, is final. Only their children return; only the future revisits the past.”
If you’ve heard anything about this book, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s phenomenal. I read it in a single sitting, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I can’t imagine having to open it and close it, open it and close it, and pulling myself in and out of that emotional state. This one is a journey, and in my opinion is best experienced that way.
In this novel, the main character is writing a letter to his mother. Because she can’t read, he’s able to bear pretty much his entire soul. We’re shown glimpses into his entire life so far as he grew up in a depressed town, the son of Vietnamese immigrants. Plus some of his parents’ and grandparents’ stories, which were not easy, and which impacted the way they raised him. Plus his years-long teenage romance with a boy who had demons of his own.
“In a world myriad as ours, the gaze is a singular act: to look at something is to fill your whole life with it, if only briefly.”
If you are the kind of reader who likes to get absolutely torn to shreds by the heartbreaking and human experiences of others, to feel closer to humanity in that way, then you must read this book immediately. It calls up the kind of weighty feeling in your chest like you just want to exhale, and keep exhaling forever, because that pressure belongs there.
Ocean Vuong is a poet first, and so his prose is exactly as perfect, hard-hitting, and raw as you’d think it would be. You’ll find yourself hypnotized and unable to look away.
These are the books that matter. These are the books that make us part of something bigger.
“Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”