On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

A Novel

Book - 2019
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"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."--
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2019
ISBN: 9780525562023
0525562028
Branch Call Number: FIC VUONG 2019
Characteristics: 246 pages ; 22 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

Adult Fiction. “This first novel by poet Vuong (Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 2016) is narrated by Little Dog, a Vietnamese refugee who grew up in Hartford with his mother and his maternal grandmother, Lan. A writer now, he addresses his story as a letter to his mother, who cannot read, to tell you... Read More »

A letter from a son to a mother who cannot read reveals the impact of the Vietnam War on their family history and provides a view into parts of the son's life that his mother has never known. (Novelist)

A young man writes a letter to his illiterate mother in an attempt to make sense of his traumatic beginnings.

A young man writes a letter to his illiterate mother in an attempt to make sense of his traumatic beginnings.


From the critics


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m
mmyjer20
Sep 21, 2020

This is unlike most books that I have read. It is almost a diary. I didn't like the sexual parts and skipped those. It is very sad and disturbing in a lot of ways. It seems to be written by someone who spends a lot of time in his own head.

l
lukasevansherman
Jun 26, 2020

"To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted."

j
jvelez_0
Jun 19, 2020

In moving, beautiful prose, Vuong tells the story of his childhood and explores the lives of his mother and grandmother in Vietnam before they immigrated to America. This book is written in the form of a letter from son to mother, despite the mother being illiterate in both English and her native language. It is a beautiful and highly moving book. Vuong has such empathy and compassion for his mother even though she was hard on him throughout his life and in a way, you can tell this book is Vuong grappling with his identity as a gay Vietnamese writer. I think the most harrowing parts of this novel were the parts where Vuong explored his mother and grandmother's lives in Vietnam both during and after the war, and how some trauma can certainly be inherited. I would recommend this book to anyone.

m
mylindatran
Jun 11, 2020

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter written from a son, Little Dog, to his mother who can't read. In this novel, Ocean Voung, retails the history of Little Dog's family, a story that finds its roots in Southern Vietnam. The themes of family, love, masculinity, and race are woven into his brief accounts, each chapter with deep lyrical meanings. The book itself feels like a giant hopeful hopeful poem, one that keeps the pages turning.

l
lkim17
May 22, 2020

In this semi-autobiographical novel, Ocean Vuong weaves an emotional coming-of-age story as told through letters from a son to his mother. The speaker of this novel writes about his experiences growing up, along with his family history and the experiences in his life that led him to become who he is. Through the exploration of life, relationships, race, and masculinity, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous raises the question of our humanity and reconnecting frayed ends. This book, rich in emotion and language, has little to critique about. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book that will reach into your heart and show you pain, but also beauty in every line.

s
sfrank31
Mar 26, 2020

"On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" is the only book that I can give the very pretentious title of "required reading" to. It is the easiest book to recommend to anybody. The cover calls it a novel, which it technically is, but at the same time it's so much more. Vuong is an accomplished poet, and this shows in his first foray into novels. The prose is gorgeous and flowing, and at times it gets weird in all the best ways. Every word of this novel feels like it was selected, intentionally, the way you would expect in poetry more than prose. This is my favorite book, and if you read it, I bet it will be one of yours, too.

m
miaone
Feb 28, 2020

I recognize that his prose is poetic, and I also recognize that I am not able to read about so much pain. I managed to complete the first third or so of the book, but at Part II I stopped reading. In flipping through the coming pages, I could tell that it was going to be too much of a lot of things for me to read through it. Beautifully written, no doubt, but just too much for me.

Heartrendingly beautiful book that shows how "gorgeous" our brief lives can be despite hardship, struggle, and even despite ugliness. This is not a typical novel. It doesn't tell a linear story. It build through the accumulation of memory, imagery, and metaphor. Take your time with this. You'll want to savor each short section. Worth reading and rereading.

n
njon38
Jan 08, 2020

Written in poetic prose as a letter to his illerate mother, this Vietnamese immigrant who comes to America as a boy explores his life as an immigrant, as a gay boy/man, the oxycotin travesty that claims the life of his first lover, tries to understand the lives and choices of his mother and grandmother in the wake of the war. Heartbreaking, thoughtful and worth the read.

p
pohpoh
Jan 06, 2020

A son bares his soul to his mother in a letter knowing she will not read being illiterate. Raw, haunting, mesmerizing and beautiful!

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Summary

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SPL_Shauna Oct 30, 2019

Autobiographical novels can be self-indulgent, dishy, or fraught. With such familiar source material, authors can wind up in the weeds, too close to the story to make a coherent narrative of it. But when these novels work, they can be gorgeous feats, giving readers searing glimpses into lives they’ve never imagined, or showing someone who needs it a slice of their own life in print. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is absolutely the latter.

With the novel framed as a letter to his mother, Vuong’s character, Little Dog, follows a trajectory that closely matches his own life growing up in Hartford, Connecticut. He’s child of a Vietnamese mother – whose own story is heartbreaking – and a father who barely exists in the narrative beyond a sense of distant terror, now absent. They arrive in Hartford during Little Dog’s early years; his mother works in a nail salon, and tries to make the best life she can for them, plus her mother Lan. It’s an unrequited narrative, in that Vuong’s narrator is certain his mother is unable to span the emotional and cultural distance required to read the book he wrote her, even as he writes it.

Vuong does much more than recount the challenges of coming to America as a young child, in a family scarred by the traumas of war. He uses achingly beautiful language to try to span the distance he feels between his mother, aunt, and grandmother, still so rooted in their Vietnamese memories and culture, and his own life as a gay man fluent in American and Vietnamese culture, but not completely at home in either.

Vuong’s prose shifts between imagining his mother’s and grandmother’s lives in Vietnam, and parsing his own life, from his childhood, through to his first romance with an all-American, foot-ball loving boy he meets picking tobacco one summer in high school, and finally into his early adult years. The novel is permeated by a sense of unbelonging: his own, his family’s, but also that of the young people he bonds with in Hartford and New York City who feel left behind and broken, and begin to fall to the opioid epidemic.

Vuong’s prose folds outward prismically, his honed poet’s voice lending layers of understanding to situations too often given superficial treatment in the news or social media. For readers who love to scan a text for different readings, this book is weighty and melancholic, stunning in how it unravels to tease more meanings. While anyone who gets most of their enjoyment from a tight plot may find themselves frustrated, those who engage with rich language and complex characters may find their book of the year.

g
gpiccard
Oct 30, 2019

A letter from a young man to his illiterate mother, 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' follows the narrator, Little Dog, as he comes of age on the East Coast with his Vietnamese refugee mother and grandmother. The novel chronicles Little Dog's experiences as he explores his identity, as well as the narratives of his mother and grandparents in their native Vietnam.

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lkim17
May 22, 2020

lkim17 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

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ArapahoeMaryA Jan 06, 2020

All freedom is relative—you know too well—and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening. Because sometimes not seeing the bars is enough.

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