On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Ocean Vuong photographed by Adrian Pope Ocean Vuong photographed by Adrian Pope

I finished this book on New Year’s day, the first 24 hours in the year 2020, and I thought to myself that this work of art will be the standard against which every other story I read this year will be measured. I feel as though my words here can’t begin to do justice to this book, the scope and breadth of it being transformative and boundless.

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is stunning in it’s form, it’s language, it’s content, it’s nuance. I feel like I have been transported out of myself yet held at bay by Vuong’s  powerfully emotional prose, the depth of his perception and the seeming impossibility that, against all odds, he has survived his own life.

In a letter he is writing to his illiterate Vietnamese mother, who will never be able to read his words, ‘Little Dog’ lays bare the rawness of his life as her son, the joy and despair of their relationship, his enduring loyalty and love for family and the historical building blocks that were laid to create the woman who is his mother. His Grandmother Lan, who lives with them, is the soothing balm laid upon the raging of a mind wrestling with the memories of an agonizing past and the necessity of keeping a foot on terra firma for the sake of her family’s survival.

It is the story of a “small, yellow-skinned boy” who comes to understand that in all ways that matter in the world he finds himself, he is different, not to be seen or heard let alone cherished. And yet, in the midst of a tobacco field in the heat of the summer, he finds one person who does see him and through his sight, helps him to see himself as the beautiful being that he is.

This book will stay with me for a very long time. It is one that could be read multiple times and still leave the reader reeling.

-Nancy C.