On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeousby Published 04 Jun 2019
|On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.pdf|
Poet 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.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Reviews
May 31 marks the 200th anniversary of Walt Whitman’s birth, and the best present we could possibly receive is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” The connection between the Good Gray Poet and this young Vietnamese immigrant may seem tenuous, but with his radical approach to form and his daring mix of personal reflection, historical recollection and sexual exploration, Vuong is surely a literary descendant of the author of “Leaves of Grass.” Emerging from the most marginalized circumstances, he has produced a lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal.
The fact that we can hear Vuong’s voice today in America stems from a function of tragedy and serendipity. As Vuong explains in his 2016 poetry collection, “Night Sky With Exit Wounds,” his grandfather was a U.S. soldier who found a farm girl in Vietnam. “Thus my mother exists,” he writes. “Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.”
That willingness to solve the equation of his own existence, no matter what its components, is a. . . .
To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Thoughtful and tender, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous meditates on the powers of storytelling. The autobiographical novel’s framed as a letter from a queer Vietnamese son, Little Dog, to his illiterate single mother, Rose. Across three expansive parts Little Dog reflects on his turbulent youth spent in Hartford, Connecticut, and hopes that the act of remembering family history through writing might heal longstanding wounds and bring parent and child closer. Using as guideposts the works of thinkers as diverse as Elaine Scarry and Qiu Miaojin, the narrator roams among a wide array of shared memories, from his mother's harrowing acts of abuse to her infrequent but intense displays of affection. So, too, does Little Dog contemplate the nuances of his relationships with his grandmother, his absentee father, and his first love, and he reckons with how the legacy of the Vietnam War and the experience of immigration impacted his parents and grandparents. Sketching a moving portrait of a fraught bond, Vuong establishes himself as a promising novelist.
A book which manages to be both raw and polished, ultimately I think this is an exploration of self and all the myriad factors that combine to create an individual. The narrator has a complicated inheritance that leads back to Vietnam in the 1960s, and he suffers for racial reasons in America as well as from the overhang of war which has never left his grandmother and mother.
The second part of the story revolves around a delicate love affair, one haunted by its own troubles grounded in addiction.
The prose can be luminous in places, over-written in others (on trainers with lights in their soles: 'the world's smallest ambulances, going nowhere' - yuk!) The strength, for me, is the fragile, anxious atmosphere, where violence is always just about to explode, even in places that should be safe, that are, somehow, simultaneously, loving.
As is often the case with these literary, fragmented novels, as much is said via the silences, breaks and interstices as in the text itself. A haunting read.
Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC via NetGalley.
Thank you to Penguin for an advance copy of this book.
Sometimes you think you know well the geography of the land of words and language. Then, a book takes you by the hand and says look. And it shows you soaring mountains, crystalline waterfalls, and golden meadows you’d never before seen. You see your world in a whole new way.
This is that book.
This book packs an unfathomable amount of terrible, haunting beauty; wisdom; love; sensuality; and living and dying into its urgent 242 pages. But make no mistake: it is not a quick read. You will find yourself dwelling on single lines, running your fingers along them in wonder of their craft.
On every page, Ocean Vuong turns you inside out to show you how your heart is stitched together; turns the fabric of humankind inside out to show you how it’s stitched together.
Reading some books feels like staring into the sun, robbing you of your vocabulary to describe them, the way the sun temporarily steals your sight.
And so you have left only the simplest and most stalwart words to describe what you’ve seen:
ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS will be described--rightly--as luminous, shattering, urgent, necessary. But the word I keep circling back to is raw: that's how powerful the emotions here are, and how you'll feel after reading it--scoured down to bone. With a poet's precision, Ocean Vuong examines whether putting words to one's experience can bridge wounds that span generations, and whether it's ever possible to be truly heard by those we love most.