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 epicentre 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 the American moment, immersed as it is 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.
There are few books that have touched me as deeply as Ocean Vuong's first work "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous". In a letter to his own mother - who is illiterate and will never be able to read its contents - 28-year-old Little Dog tells his story of adolescence. He writes about growing up as the son of a Vietnamese-American immigrant, about the traumas that keep haunting his post-immigrant family, and about the attempt not to stand out as such in the city of Hartford, CT, and its rural surroundings. Slowly, his first gay love affair, in all its tenderness and harshness, comes to the fore. Little Dog's strength grows step by step from these experiences of his own vulnerability.
That Vuong has mainly written poetry so far is apparent in every line of the book. The language is breathtaking. Vuong manages to bring the meaning of the verbal itself into focus - the fragments, the unspeakable, but also the abundance of language from which our self-narratives and identities are formed.