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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (2019)

by Ocean Vuong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,2086111,621 (3.94)66
"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."--… (more)
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» See also 66 mentions

English (57)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Ocean Vuong- a Vietnamese-born US poet- writes a kind of cri de coeur to his mother. A damaged, sometimes-abusive woman, working a minimum wage job in an alien land, the author dwells on recollections of his childhood, family stories of life in the War, bitter memories, tinged with moments of beauty. His poetic background shines out; yet while I've found some poetic prose works unreadable, this is pretty heart rending, Highly quotable in parts.
Vuong moves on to re-live his first relationship; although Trevor comes across as a pretty shallow character, Vuong's descriptions elevate his lover:"When you say 'Trevor' you mean the action, the pine-stuck thumb on the Bic lighter, the sound of his boots."
Haven't we all felt like that about someone?!
And as the mother and son live through the grandmother's death; the drug deaths of sundry friends, Vuong meditates on life....there are no answers... ( )
  starbox | Nov 16, 2020 |
4.5 Amazing prose - Vuong's poetry is evident throughout. Though a novel, it is autobiographical and evokes Justin Torres' We the Animals in both the intense love and violence of his upbringing and also the revelation of his sexual identity and the constraints of culture. The narrator (or letter writer) is only identified as "Little Dog" a term of endearment from his Vietnamese childhood to trick away the evil spirits from wanting and claiming him. He is writing his mother, who cannot read English, a letter that recounts his memories of childhood and his coming out in his teens. This was not an easy life - his single mother worked to exhaustion to support him and his grandmother after arriving in Hartford, CT from Vietnam. The influence of these two women is touching, though complicated as they both demanded much from him as a boy and essentially negated his childhood. Even his relationship with Trevor which brings him joy is equally fraught with heartache. The fear of being identified as gay, Trevor's drug dependency, the family and social constraints they face all darken the bright spots in his young life. But it is detailed with such eloquence and poignancy, that it becomes something beautiful in its pain. "Inside a single-use life, there are no second chances. That's a lie, but we live it. We live anyway." (125). This is the "anyway." Another stunner: "In a world myriad as our, the gaze is a singular act: to look at something is to fill your whole life with it, if only briefly." This fictional letter in book form has Little Dog shining his gaze on moments of his 20 some-years life and we are invited to witness the illumination. It's not always easy to look, but to look away is to miss out. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
Realizing this book was still going to stay at three stars made me hesitate commenting on it. While this means "I liked it," (by the standards out here) the almost mass hysteria and adulation, the noteworthy lists it landed on, well, that practically made it a must read because who doesn't want to join in the throng to discuss a really great book?

Out of anything I've ever read and offered up an opinion, I understood where those books fit in my literary world. Not this one. Some sentences were captivating enough to be read more than once. Some sentences made no sense. I know. We could call this poetic license. And this brilliant writer exercising creativity, taking and bending his work into a novel, truly, such an effort ought to leave a reader breathless and in awe. Instead, I was sort of puzzled. Not confused. Puzzled.

Here's why.

As I read along - and believe me, there were some scenes in this book that blew my mind - and I did LOVE them, but what failed (for me) was this whole format of a letter to his mother, the letter which we all know she may never read. I thought of him, "Little Dog," sitting on his couch, looking at a photograph book - and the pictures - like in many photograph books, are out of sequence. And with each one he comes to, it was as if he began the narration about that particular scene, what was happening, how he felt, what it meant to him, and so forth.

And the ending? Well, it was so free form, so stream of consciousness that I skimmed it.

I didn't hate the book, but I didn't love the book. It sort of makes me sad because I wanted to love it, you know? ( )
1 vote DonnaEverhart | Sep 25, 2020 |
A novel, a poem? A collection of spectacular images and quotes about the brief glory of life in a world of pain and suffering. ( )
  snash | Sep 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vuong, Oceanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jonkers, JohannesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
But let me see if—using these words as a little plot of
land and my life as a cornerstone—
I can build you a center.
—Qiu Miaojin
I want to tell you the truth, and already I have told you about the wide rivers.
—Joan Didion
Dedication
For my mother
First words
Let me begin again.
Quotations
You once told me that the human eye is god's loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn't even know there's another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.
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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."--

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