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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
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September 2019: Cultural > On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong, 4 stars

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message 1: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 22, 2019 08:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 4999 comments This is an incredibly beautiful book, even when the stories he tells are ugly. It's written as a letter to his mother, but only parts of it seem to be really directed toward her. He's recounting memories of his life, and stories told to him by his mother and grandmother about their lives in Vietnam. The audio narration is also beautiful, with a slightly dreamy quality.

There was one section that particularly stood out to me. He alternated between two different stories that occurred during the war, with vivid details, building more suspense with each line. (For those that read the book, I'm referring to the story about a girl facing three soldiers with guns drawn, and the story involving men in a ritual involving a monkey.) I felt as though I were watching an extraordinary short film. I was breathless to the end. This book had many riveting sections with a strong narrative or an emotional punch, or both.

I felt that the overall narrative of the story was completed before the end of the book. The rest of the book seemed to switch between poetry and other styles, and while it was beautiful, I don't think I was really absorbing it. I may need to go back to savor some of those one-line observations. This is the first novel by the author, who is known for his poetry. I switched to the print book about half way through. The changes between prose and poetry were clear on paper, but they might have been smoothed out in the audio narration.

In recounting his memories, he suggests that he might never send the letter to his mother. I was thinking... I hope not, because I don't think she would actually want to hear the details of her son's first sexual experiences. (I've read my share of sex scenes in books, and this was not the standard fare, and not just because the lovers were both men. I would not want to hear that.)

I suspect I missed an important detail as I was enjoying the lovely writing. Can someone who read the book clarify this for me? (view spoiler)


message 2: by Joy D (last edited Sep 22, 2019 06:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joy D | 3212 comments NancyJ, I am glad you liked it more than I did. Those scenes you mention were just too intense and horrible for me, which I guess is a compliment to the author if that's what he intended. (view spoiler) Nice review!


NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 4999 comments Joy D wrote: "NancyJ, I am glad you liked it more than I did. Those scenes you mention were just too intense and horrible for me, which I guess is a compliment to the author if that's what he intended. [spoilers..."

Yeah, the second story in that pair was the worst in the book now that I think about it. It's funny how a lovely voice and a little wine will soften the impact of a scene. When I thought of the first story, I flashed back to my own memory of the flower power pictures during the Vietnam war demonstrations. (A demonstrator offered a flower to a cop or national guard soldier. Another put flowers in the barrels of the guns.)


message 4: by Susie (last edited Sep 23, 2019 08:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susie | 4488 comments This has been one of the stand outs for me this year. I am really sad that it wasn't included on the Booker longlist.


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