Select language, opens an overlay
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

A Novel

eBook - 2019
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"Brilliant, heartbreaking, tender, and highly original - poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a sweeping and shattering portrait of a family, and a testament to the redemptive power of storytelling. 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"--
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2019
ISBN: 9780525562030
Branch Call Number: EBOOK OVERDRIVE
Characteristics: 1 online resource
data file,rda

Related Resources


From Library Staff

Fiction. Poet Vuong's frank first novel takes the form of a letter from a man to his illiterate mother in which 28-year-old Little Dog, a writer who's left the impoverished Hartford, Conn., of his youth for New York City, retraces his coming of age. (Publishers Weekly)

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.

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

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.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 01, 2021

Hearing Mr Vuong on "On Being" prompted me to read this book. He tells the story starting in Vietnam son of a mixed race couple and moves to the US w/ his Mom and Grandmother. This book is a letter to his Mom who endures unspeakable hardships often under American eyes. It is a coming of age description full of love, heartbreak, tenderness, violence and growth often very graphic. This story follows a path as one's mind might, start telling a story and remembering more details as the telling continues.

JCLCherylMY Mar 24, 2021

This stunning coming of age novel is a semi-autobiographical work by a Vietnamese author. Ocean Vuong tells us continually throughout this beautiful book that trauma changes our DNA and informs how we look at the world. The story centers around vignettes of sexuality, gender expression, race and war. Events spiral around one another, in non-linear order, and mirror the lives of Little Dog, his family of strong, yet, flawed women, and his relationships, especially his first love. Each vignette is told in beautiful language and adds sharp insights into the immigrant experience in America. Ocean Vuong says "to be gorgeous, you must first be seen." Little Dog/Ocean, you've been seen! (Audiobook read by the author.)

Mar 08, 2021

Through the son's letters to his mother readers learn of his life growing up with her, a traumatized woman lucky enough to be living in North America and his grandmother, whose own story is told. The revelations articulate the horrors perpetrated onto the average Vietnamese in a poetic style that may not suit everyone. I didn't finsih it, I suppose there was too much back and forth and I was hoping for a story with a plot. This author shows great promise if he can marry his prose to a plot.

Jan 27, 2021

I'm glad the author found language(s) to deal with his pain, but the PTSD, schizophrenia, drugs and other issues the family dealt with, were too much for me to read more than a few chapters.

Jan 26, 2021

I've been thinking about how to put into words how I feel about this book. Sometimes the writing was spot on and the book rode a 5-star wave. Sometimes, I struggled through it, but not because the writing was bad. On the contrary, it was beautiful, but beautiful prose can only go so far on its own. For example:
“A page, turning, is a wing lifted with no twin, and therefore no flight. And yet we are moved.”
I don't really know what that means. Yes, I understand, but didn't know why it was there.
I will say this: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is fearless and beautifully crafted. Each word was polished to shine, and then polished some more. There are times the author drops the ball, but for the most part, it is the book's greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. It's not a linear story—instead of protagonists you follow from beginning to end, the story is told in fragments, jumping back and forth between timelines and states of mind—but I enjoyed piecing everything together.
Overall, I would say I enjoyed the reading experience. It was raw and tender at the same time, beautifully written words that both enriched and took away from the narrative. I found myself skimming some parts and reflecting deeply on others. I expected nothing when I started, but expected more when I finished. Would I recommend it? I would say give it a try if you're looking for something different, but keep your expectations in check. It is what it is—nothing more, nothing less. And maybe that's the beauty of it.

Jan 09, 2021

On Earth is one of those books that makes a hopeful writer less hopeful, less worthy. Vuong’s poet side is evident in every paragraph, every description, every observation. This is a book you binge, both wanting to read the next chapter but hoping it never ends. Im almost guilty starting a new book but I’m eager to find one that brings me the same joy and melancholy that this book did.

Nov 11, 2020

This is a book you savor. Vuong writes this story as a letter to his mom. His words on each page beautiful and powerful. I stopped many times to re-read a sentence, a paragraph. The writing is not briefly gorgeous-it is gorgeous from start to finish. This is not a happy book, but a hopeful one.

Nov 09, 2020

Vuong’s writing left me stunned. More poem than novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous had me by the end of the first page. I can’t think of the last time I read something with such a beautifully hypnotic narration. The story Vuong tells is grounded and genuine. He explores themes of family, of trauma, and of sexuality in a coming of age story that would make even Harper Lee jealous.
While not widely relatable, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous strikes a chord with its reader. I recommend it to anyone looking to branch into more artistic styles of writing or works by LGBTQ authors. @Bowie of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Oct 05, 2020

Reads like poetry at times, which makes sense. I enjoyed the perspective bit did not always connect with the imagery or analogy

Oct 04, 2020

Beautiful, sensual and I want to say, eviscerating. He deserves the accolades.

View All Comments


Add a Summary
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.

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.


Add Age Suitability
May 22, 2020

lkim17 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


Add a Quote
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.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SPL

To Top