On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

A Novel

Book - 2019
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"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"-- Provided by publisher
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2019
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780525562023
Characteristics: 246 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

"This is a beautifully written novel. It is written in the form of letters from a son to his illiterate mother, who is an immigrant and a refugee of the Vietnam War. Written as letters that narrate memories from the past, as well as those that touch on present experiences, it is a striking ... Read More »

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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.

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.

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.

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!

Dec 23, 2019

Rec by Emily Cook Dec 2019
gave to Nico with Denali's recommendation Sept 2019

SPL_Shauna Oct 30, 2019

Complete review available under Summary

Oct 30, 2019

Incredibly vivid, moving prose that bounces between narratives, defying time and place. Vuong has crafted a world so colorful and lucid that it's difficult to pull away from. The author's poetic background truly shines in this novel, whose dynamic narrator makes it easy to forget that you're reading fiction. 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' ranges between the lighthearted (the narrator's childhood wonder of the world, the beginnings of a summer romance with another boy on a tobacco farm) to the intensely heavy and tragic (the utter devastation of the war in Vietnam and the lasting effects on those escaped, the gripping loss of the American opioid crisis). Definitely ought to be lauded as one of the best books of 2019.

Oct 08, 2019

A difficult read and written in prose style as a letter to his illiterate mother. Poet Vuong reflects on his Vietnamese and American ethnicity while recognizing his emotionally damaged upbringing. Although this is a short novel, I could only read it in short portions because of abrupt flashbacks describing household violence and his mother’s erratic behavior with his own ensuing confusion and sadness. Sometimes the best poetry and prose are creations from pain and experience.

multcolib_susannel Oct 02, 2019

Beautifully written, compelling story of a son trying to work out the unknown mysteries of his mother's life.

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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.

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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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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