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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  4,173 ratings  ·  871 reviews
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 roote
ebook, 256 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Penguin Press
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4.28  · 
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 ·  4,173 ratings  ·  871 reviews

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Emily May
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, 2019
“All freedom is relative—you know too well—and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening.”

4 1/2 stars. Stunning.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is quite a book. It is not surprising that the author is a poet, as this reads almost like a poetry collection - prose poe
Ron Charles
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 margin ...more
Chaima ✨ شيماء
Dear Ma ,” within the narrator’s head—or it might have been his heart—the name begins tolling, very much like a bell, “ I am writing to reach you—even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are. ” And although he knows his mother is illiterate—her education capped at the age of 5 after a napalm raid destroyed her schoolhouse in Vietnam—and thus, all his hours and pain will be folded in paper and put away, the words kept tumbling out, catching fire as they went.

He is Little
Celeste Ng
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.
Angela M
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such a beautiful book title and it was the title that drew me to read the description and request a copy of it. Not only is the title beautiful, but much of the writing here is as well. It’s described as literary fiction, but a brief look at Ocean Vuong’s bio after I read this book made the biographical nature of the story striking. This letter from a young Vietnamese immigrant to his mother who doesn’t know how to read is raw, impactful, achingly sad, painful to read. It is filled with ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, favorites
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 thin ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Books by poets always have the best titles, don’t they? On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong’s semi-autobiographical debut novel, takes the form of a letter from Little Dog to his mother, both Vietnamese refugees now living in the U.S. This poignant, lyrical story more than delivers on the promise of that striking title.

“Because gunshots, lies, and oxtail—or whatever you want to call your god—should say Yes over and over, in cycles, in spirals, with no other reason but t
anna (readingpeaches)
(i want to tattoo on earth we're briefly gorgeous on my ribs but it's cool, i'm cool abt it)

This review is also posted on my blog.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ocean Vuong is first & foremost a poet and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is his literary debut (he also has a poem by the same title). It’s not a novel novel, though, not in this very Western sense we’re all used to. There are no prominent arcs or villains, or any ascending tensi
This work is called a novel but it is a ball of flame tossed into a dark night, blinding, brilliant, searing. Who knows if it is poetry or novel or memoir; the language fills the mouth and is saturated with truth. We recognize it. We’ve tasted it. We are pained by it. It still hurts.

Something here is reminiscent of the epic poetry of Homer. Life's brutality, man’s frailty, the odyssey, the clash of civilizations, the incomparable language undeniably capturing human experience, these things make
Diane Barnes
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No review. Just a list of adjectives.


The author didn't write this book; he opened his heart and just let it bleed all over the pages. Reading it cracked mine open and turned me inside out.

Just a sample: "Did you know people get rich off of sadness? I want to meet the millionaire of American sadness. I want to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say, "Its been an honor to serve my country".
Gumble's Yard
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
There is so much I want to tell you, Ma. I was once foolish enough to believe knowledge would clarify, but some things are so gauzed behind layers of syntax and semantics, behind days and hours, names forgotten, salvaged and shed, that simply knowing the wound exists does nothing to reveal it. I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I don’t know what or who we are. Days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like a sound. I touch the world not as mys
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the bold and bracing debut novel by acclaimed poet Ocean Vuong, centers on Little Dog, the son of a Vietnamese immigrant mother and an absent father. Raised in present-day Hartford in a predominantly white community, Little Dog struggles from an early age to both assimilate with his peers and to honor his Vietnamese heritage, but here Vuong deviates from the standard immigration story blueprint in favor of something more darkly sensual and internal. As the story ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I knew this book would have an emotional wallop so I held off for a while. It's clear Ocean Vuong is drawing on his own experience in this novel, because it shares some of the sentiments and emotions I experienced in his poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

Oh how I love when a poet writes essays or novels. The language is powerful, the way some pieces are linear but others return to themes and core experiences is very moving. It starts out speaking to the violence in families, looks at
Jeff Zentner
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 mak
Jun 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When a poet writes a novel and draws so deeply from his own life, is it an autobiography or a poem or a novel? The lines are all blurred here. Mixed thoughts in a series of letters to his illiterate mother, Vuong had me mesmerized at times and forced me back into the depths of my own childhood memories unlocking some painful and some funny events of my own past.
Resh (The Book Satchel)
Rating : 4.5 stars

So keen to read more of Vuong's work now. This book is magically poetic. It explores loneliness, growing up as a gay man, war, the relationship between a mother and son. It is so beautiful. I don't think I can review it with justice.

I have not read Vuong's poetry earlier, and this book just makes me want to read them all. It is beautiful, lyrical and poetic. I admit it might be a little too flowery for those who generally do not enjoy lyrical prose. There are times of conflict
Roman Clodia
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 addictio
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' is haunting, a novel about the nexus between identity and loss, written with precision and poetry. It's a powerful, insightful, and deeply moving novel."
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it

Vuong takes a few risks here and will inevitably leave a few potential readers behind, but I felt the memoir/novel held a nicely precarious line all the way through. OEWBG reads like a bad dream punctuated by moments of grace or revelation. Some of the segues/poetic interludes do feel a little stilted at times - as though Vuong considered them his strong suit, the point at which the sentence had to coalesce, too good to throw away ('Their voices subdued as the wind swarms hugely above them—
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went back and forth wondering if I should give this a 4 or 5 star was just such a combination of beautiful writing ...poetic, raw and brutal...that it had to end up with a 5 star, for me!
This novel is a letter from “little dog” a Vietnamese-American gay man to his Vietnamese mother.
The family came to America when little dog was a little boy with just a few relatives, settled finally in Connecticut where life was tough.
I’m not going to go into the story because you need to just rea
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5, rounded up.

This is a hard one for me to rate and review; a lot of it was compelling, unusual and interesting - yet for me it all didn't quite come together. The more straightforward sections spoke to me the most, but there were too many times the author took off on poetical flights of fancy that basically lost me. Knowing that the author is primarily famous (and lauded) as a poet made me, more or less, accept these passages as his more familiar métier - but often I just wished he'd get back
Paris (parisperusing)
Thoughts after the second attempt: I wanted to enjoy this novel, as I'd been intrigued by Vuong's poetry. However, I think it is clear the novel may not be his strongest form.

While there were many bursts of veracity and beauty in this book, they were sadly outnumbered by pretentious, unnecessary detail. This line, particularly, seemed quite ridiculous: "It was not until the blood ran from his mother's nose, turning her white shirt the color of Elmo on Sesame Street." (I hope that does not make
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 rounded up

I'm finding it hard to summarise my thoughts on Ocean Vuong's debut novel, perhaps because it's about so many things. I guess if I was pressed to describe On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous I'd say it's a novel about identity, love, race, language and being human.

Written as a letter to his mother who is unable read, the novel doesn't have a cohesive plot as such. Instead we learn about those closest to Vuong and his relationship with them - including an ex, Trevor; his grandmother; gr
Jaclyn Crupi
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is something magical that can happen when a poet turns to prose. This is a beautiful, raw and powerful letter of love from a son to his illiterate mother. It all comes back to love and survival but Vuong is exploring race, class, inter-generational trauma, sexuality and masculinity and it’s transformative. With a poet’s precision, the violence and beauty of life are rendered and the question asked is can those closest to us hear our cries to survive? A truly stunning and luminous read.
Jun 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I know that I’ll probably be part of the minority here, but this book did not blow me away as I though it would.
On earth we’re briefly gorgeous is a heartfelt novel recollecting the story of an American-Vietnamese family which spans for three generations. The story is told from the younger family member’s perspective, the son. He writes this long letter to his illiterate mother detailing all th
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

If you're the kind of reader that seeks tomes with the density of a collapsed star - where you find yourself slack jawed and spellbound by the joining of shopworn words into new combinations that make your eyes slick with adoration, then this is a book for you.
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam, usa, 2019-read
A coming-of-age novel that tells the story of a queer Vietnamese-American growing up in the times of the opioid epidemic - very powerful and beautifully written. Review to follow on 07/22/19 (German pub date).
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jessica Woodbury
I am not a poetry person and I'm not always the first on board for new novels by poets or novels where the prose is described as "poetic." I tend to be a plot & character person. I will often find books with allegedly lyrical prose to be too much or rather indulgent. I will rarely stick with them.

But. Sometimes I do. Sometimes it works and I feel like there really is something to it. And this is one of those times. I think it helped that I listened to it on audio, which forces me to slow do
Elizabeth George
Full disclosure first: The Elizabeth George Foundation, of which I am executive director, sent Ocean Vuong through an MFA program on the strength of his magnificent poetry, which became Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a dazzling collection. Now he has written his first novel. I wish I could give it more than five stars. Ocean is really far beyond gifted with language. I'm not sure what adjective to apply to him. The book is raw, honest, brutal, shattering, deeply felt, heart-breaking, touching. It's ...more
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Ocean Vuong is the author of the debut novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 15 other languages worldwide. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best Firs ...more
“They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they can love it.” 27 likes
“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn't trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.” 23 likes
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