Claire McAlpine's Reviews > On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
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I loved listened to Ocean Vuong talking about writing, he's an incredibly articulate speaker and an accomplished poet, his writing sophorific and it is easy to be lulled into it's cadence and rhythm and I'm the kind of reader who prefers a poets prose to their poetry, I'm easily swayed by a poets promise of enrapture in the long form.

I loved the premise of the novel, a letter to an illiterate mother, a lofty intellectual promise, a notion that allows for a lack of self consciousness, a daring fearlessness of judgment, knowing she can never read it.

I am lured into reading it and find it losing sight of itself and its intention, that of the letter to the mother, and that it too often feels like the author looking at himself, reliving certain experiences and I wonder why a mother needs to be witness to all of that.

The parts I enjoyed most were the recounting of aspects of Ma (Rose's) and Lan's lives, comparing the nail salon to the tobacco fields, the sacrifices one generation makes for another, the divide between the educated and the uneducated, families fragmented by an internal cultural divide, a sense of loss, the necessity of letting go.

It is beautifully written, in a lyrical flow, a coming of age incantation, an author to watch.

I was sad to read that his own mother passed away in November 2019 at the tender age of 51, he shared this news and a photo of her on his instagram page, honoring her,
along with all working class mothers who put their heads down through decades of back breaking work so their children can put their heads up



What can a son say to the great loss from which he owes his own life? Only that my world has changed forever. it can never be what it was. it is absolutely less—and yet perennially more because of what you have given me, Ma. you taught me that our pain is not our destiny—but our reason. you gave me all the reasons. thank you. i bow to you. i will see you again. every word was always for you. every sentence a life (-giving) sentence.
Ocean Vuong
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Reading Progress

July 18, 2019 – Shelved
July 18, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
July 18, 2019 – Shelved as: fiction
January 10, 2020 – Started Reading
January 12, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Carmel Hanes This was an uneven read for me, too. I loved parts, and some parts began to feel more scattered. Love your thoughts.


Claire McAlpine Carmel wrote: "This was an uneven read for me, too. I loved parts, and some parts began to feel more scattered. Love your thoughts."

I loved listening to the videos of him talking about writing and poetry and life, and I appreciate the talent and perseverance that lead him to write this novel, but I find that little of it has stayed with me and I kept having to remind myself that the epistolary form was just a narrative device he used, that this is probably not the letter he would have written to his dying mother. I wanted more about them I guess and less of his coming-of-age story, which had a very 'Of Mice & Men' feel to it in parts.

Somehow he managed to survive his proximity to the drugs, addiction, thanks perhaps to his intelligence or ambition to express himself, perhaps I wanted less poetry and more story around community and the connections that lifted him out of becoming another statistic. I look forward to seeing what comes next, how he chooses to uses his gift.


Carmel Hanes Terrific thoughts, and I agree with them all. I saw him speak, too, which was honest and sweet. It's so difficult to know the hope and intention of an author, and even more difficult to put aside our own needs and desires when reading what is written. No one really ever reads the same book.


Claire McAlpine Carmel wrote: "Terrific thoughts, and I agree with them all. I saw him speak, too, which was honest and sweet. It's so difficult to know the hope and intention of an author, and even more difficult to put aside o..."

Yes, I almost didn't want to write anything to be honest, too hard, but then I remember that I do this to remind myself of my own reading experience, I get to lead to books by what others say, and then I have to be honest. :)

I acknowledge too that my perceptions have changed and I'm trying to be careful about what I choose to read, I read the novel and between the lines, looking for something that's not there.


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