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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  17,923 ratings  ·  3,201 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 rooted in Vietnam —/>On
Hardcover, 246 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  17,923 ratings  ·  3,201 reviews

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Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Ocean is a brilliant writer and I am a fan of his work. I even published him once in PANK! It has been thrilling to watch him soar. The prose in this novel is sublime. The way he writes is just… exquisite. He writes the body so well. He writes about the complicated relationship between a mother and son with real tenderness, with compelling honesty. He writes sex better than almost anyone out there. There are so many lines that gutted me or exhilarated me or stunned me. I wanted to sit with each ...more
Emily May
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.

“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 poems, each capturing a moment, a memory, a feeling, or an idea so beautifully. It doesn't follow a regular narrative structure, but is instead a series of snippets or moments. The style won't be for everyone, but for those who love the raw punches of poetry, it is a fantastic book.

I found it difficult to believe this was fiction. There is something about Little Dog's story, a certain raw honesty and earnestness, that seems to come from a place of truth. Maybe because much of it does. The author draws on recent and historical events, stories of well-known figures, artists and tragedies to weave his fictional story with every inch of our reality.

The book is a letter from Little Dog to his illiterate mother. He talks frankly about race, gender, sexuality, masculinity, grief and language, without allowing the book to be overwhelmed by the heavy subject matter. The last one - language - is a major theme, and the author explores the importance of language on both a micro and macro level - the choice of individual words and phrases, and the power (or lack of) bestowed upon an individual by having access to language and literacy.

For such a tiny novel, it is huge in its scope. From the Vietnam War to Barthes to Tiger Woods to 50 Cent to Little Dog's first romance with a white boy, it's somehow both a philosophical book about humanity and language, and a deeply personal bildungsroman.

It is impossible to categorize, but it is undeniably both brief and gorgeous.

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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/>““
Ron Charles
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
'all this time i told myself we were born from war, but I was wrong. we were born from beauty. let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence - but that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it.'

wow. i am stunned. in a debut novel where prose so elegantly meets verse, a work of beauty is created and the world is a better place because of it.

i randomly came across this video (probably one of the most genuine interviews i have ever seen) and i immediately fell in love with the d
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am out here stanning the success of Ocean Vuong’s debut novel! As a fellow queer Vietnamese American, it feels so amazing to see someone with my same ethnic and queer identities breaking through in the literary world – and so sad that we have to fight so hard for our voices to be heard. This book took me on a scattershot, beautiful emotional journey. It felt less like reading a novel and more like reading tender, poignant passages about several connected moments: our narrator Little Dog accide ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2019
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 ...more
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a title like this, an author whose name is Ocean and the remarkable reviews, I thought this would surely be a great one. Little Dog writes to his mother in such a raw emotional and passionate way. He reflects on his life -in his 20’s- the relationship with his mother who abused him at the same time suffering from her own mental
Illness having survived the Vietnam war; his own journey through sexual exploration of his own orientation to finding himself; and the relationships he’s had wi
Sep 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Because the sunset,like survival exists only on the verge of its own disappearing.
To be gorgeous, you must first be seen,
but to be seen allows you to be hunted”

‘On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous’ written as a letter from a twenty something Vietnamese American narrator to his illiterate mother.
The protagonist is known only by the nickname his grandmother has given him
‘Little Dog’
His letter appears to be semi autobiographical and addresses his family’s history,the violen
Diane Barnes
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
Fearless... delicate....and haunting.

The beautiful language escalates rapidly and tenderly.

For me...I felt the silence between the words Ocean Vuong wrote and those he didn’t.

Very powerful and self-reflective.

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 to hear
“They say nothing lasts forever and I’m writing you in the voice of an endangered species.”
I can’t even. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty and heartbreak of this book. Please experience it.

My favorite quote:
“Maybe we look into mirrors not merely to seek beauty, regardless how illusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here. That the hunted body we move in has not yet been annihilated, scraped out. To see yourself still yourself is a refuge men who have not been denied cannot know.”quote:
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 yo
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley, 2019
Recently, when I have opened my Goodreads web page, it has seemed to be full of people giving a lot of stars to this book and singing its praises in glowing reviews.

I opened the book with high hopes.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous uses a fragmented narrative to tell, or perhaps explore is a better word, the life of Little Dog, a son born to Vietnamese immigrants into the USA. The reader gradually pieces together the story of Little Dog’s mother (Rose) and grandmother (Lan
anna (readingpeaches)
rep: Vietnamese-American gay mc, Vietnamese characters, gay characters
tw: on page death, child abuse, drugs, war descriptions, homophobia, animal violence

Review also on my blog. ARC provided by the publisher.

(i want to tattoo on earth we're briefly gorgeous on my ribs but it's cool, i'm cool abt it)

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 use
/> ...more
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
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Seemita by: Twitter

A twig to hang our old ages on, a current to charge our failed youth from; a blanket to hush our demons from the black, a spring to nourish our wounded dreams underneath. A whole. A hollow. And everything suspended in between is memory.
'Ma. You once told me that memory is a choice. But if you were god, you’d know it’s a flood.'
And like a flood, Little Dog untethers me from my world and takes me to his’, where he writes a letter and recounts his life of 28 odd years to his Ma, who is illiterate. Doesmemory.
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
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
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 unfolds, ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indiebuddyreads

There is no doubt that Ocean Vuong is a talented writer and this is an outstanding debut novel. But in the end this didn't quite attain its early promise.

For at least the first half of the book I was convinced this would be one of my top reads for the year. The complex Mother-Son-Grandmother relationship was a highlight. At, once cruel, tender, funny, heartbreaking - it was a kind of melancholy portraiture done in prose and poetry. It was perfection. I think it should have been
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
So you go to a high-end restaurant with an elaborate tasting menu. You are served dishes with fancy names that involve sublimated beetroot gel and deconstructed potato foam, and though the experience is unique and artisanal, you go home feeling... unsated. My experience with this novel in a nutshell.

At first glance, Vuong’s book has all the ingredients of a winning novel — lyrical writing, fascinating themes, a topical premise. Taking the form of a long, confessional letter from a yo
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2019-read, vietnam
Now Longlisted for the National Book Award 2019
Ocean Vuong’s highly acclaimed debut novel is an intentionally disparate and associative mixture of fiction and memoir, detailing the coming-of-age of a queer Vietnamese-American growing up in the times of the opioid epidemic. The book, framed as a letter to the protagonist’s illiterate mother, is certainly very powerful and beautifully written, but at times over-ambitious and thus cluttered – plus it contains one of the most brutal scenes depicting
Emer (A Little Haze)
I think I feel underwhelmed and I don't truly know why. This book was one of my most anticipated reads and for some reason I found myself unable to connect with it as I would like. The prose is beyond beautiful. There were moments in this book that I was made breathless by its gorgeousness. But then at times I found it too harsh for me. Too explicit for my personal tastes and I felt uneasy. The book started and finished strongly...but I just got lost in the middle. The narrative is chronological ...more
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.
Jeff Zentner
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 h
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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.” 99 likes
“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.” 64 likes
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