Book Reviews

Book Review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

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 Gorgeousis 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.

My Thoughts

ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS is a letter from a son, Little Dog, to his illiterate mother, Rose. Little Dog is the narrator is a gay immigrant living in Connecticut. Through his letters, we learn of a mother’s hard work to survive, a boy working illegally on a tobacco farm, and a boy’s lost innocence with another boy Trevor. In this story, we see a complicated family history and identity in America along with issues minorities and immigrants face.

I will say that there were topics in this book that could be triggering to those who have unresolved trauma, are in the healing process, or are not of emotional strength and should proceed with caution. But I can say that despite the triggers, it is well worth gritting your teeth through those rough words.

The story is told in such a way that you are emersed in the lyrical words, forgetting that Little Dog is telling you a story. His story shows the harsh reality that some face and in those harsh times, resiliency, and growth emerge. A sort of confession is what it seems the boy is telling. It shows that even in hard times, traumatic moments, and a journey to survival, we can find a diamond in the middle of the black rock.

Ruth Anne Garcia

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