The instant New York Times Bestseller • Nominated for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction
“A lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal…Not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and 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. 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.
Named a Best Book of the Year by:
GQ, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal, TIME, Esquire, The Washington Post, Apple, Good Housekeeping, The New Yorker, The New York Public Library, Elle.com, The Guardian, The A.V. Club, NPR, Lithub, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal Magazine and more!
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Cultural and sexual identity are never easy to navigate—and when you’re grappling with both, it becomes even harder. In poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, a young man nicknamed Little Dog pours his heart out in a long letter to his mother, revealing both his budding queerness and his struggle to reconcile his Vietnamese heritage with an American upbringing. Vuong—a 2019 MacArthur Fellow—draws on his own childhood experiences, giving the novel’s gut-wrenching and vulnerable emotions even more depth and urgency. We rooted for Little Dog to find a way to heal from trauma and embrace happiness while marveling at Vuong’s startling language.
Poet Vuong's frank first novel (after Night Sky with Exit Wounds) 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. His childhood is marked by abuse from his overworked mother, as well as the traumas he's inherited from his mother's and grandmother's experiences during the Vietnam War. Having left Vietnam with them as a young boy, and after the incarceration of his father, Little Dog's attempts to assimilate include contending with language barriers and the banal cruelty of the supposedly well-intentioned. He must also adapt to the world as a gay man and as a writer the novel's beating heart rests in Little Dog's first, doomed love affair with another teenage boy, and in his attempts to describe what being a writer truly is. Vuong's prose shines in the intimate scenes between the young men, but sometimes the lyricism has a straining, vague quality ("They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they will love it"; "But the thing about forever is you can't take it back"). Nevertheless, this is a haunting meditation on loss, love, and the limits of human connection.
Wow, just wow. Ocean Voung unleashed a tidal wave of poeticized story telling and imagery. He shows a mastery of language that both demonstrates its power to bring life to the singularity of the human experience, and at the same time how it is not enough to capture all that we are perfectly. His style with the pregnant pauses between scenes, allows him to fully put all the heaviness of his life on the reader but allow moments to breath. Recollecting yourself, only to plunge down deeper into beauty and tragedy. I heard the would be adapting this novel into a film, I can’t imagine how they will preserve the richness and density of the language that he packed into every sentence.
A story amplified by words
This is a heartbreaking story in its own right. The story is enough to make you well up at the thought of struggle, strife, and being misunderstood. Yet —his writing, his style, the way he brings words under his grasp makes this an experience. Every word is like a suture. The needle stinging the skin as it punctures, the thread abrading the muscles as it pulls, and the wound coming together to finally heal. This book brings pain to the reader because it has brought pain to the author. In the end, however, it also brings peace and allows the wound to heal. This book is a triumph in self exploration, discovery, and story telling. Whatever you think you’re in for, I guarantee it will surprise you.
Beautiful. Or Gorgeous, I should say
Was crying within minutes of reading.