“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a letter dedicated to Ocean Vuong’s mother, in which the speaker of the novel explores his intimate past, beauty in the aftermath of hate and desperation and cultural identity.
Ocean Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam and at the age of 2 came to America with his family to be raised in Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a BA in Nineteenth Century American Literature, and later graduated from NYU with a MFA in Poetry as stated by his website.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” has an outstanding number of accolades attributed to Vuong and his words. This book is Vuong’s first published novel. He has two published poetry collections, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and “Time is a Mother”, both of which I now have a strong desire to read.
I am a big hater of novels and stories that are in a letter format. Books like “Dracula” and stories that have clippings of information usually take away from the personality a book can offer, but Ocean Vuong puts so much of his voice into this novel.
Little Dog, the narrator and speaker of the novel, is an immigrant from Vietnam who takes us through his family’s past, his own sense of love and what family means to him. The scars the narrator presents us are deep, but Vuong is able to explore their divots with a perspective of beauty and hope rather than solely pain and sorrow.
Each word of this letter carries the emotion of someone who has lost so many people they have loved, hated and feared. The story weaves in and out of the present and past. Actually, the letter rarely focuses on a central time frame. Instead of being centered around a moment in space, it centralizes itself around the various feelings that stem from love.
We read through neighborhood myths and stories of war crimes separated only by a few spaces. The novel flows impeccably. Vuong threads emotion throughout all the memories that resurface in the letter.
Despite the unimportance of chronology in this book, it is a journey for Little Dog. He comes to terms with losses in his family, and he must learn the importance of loving people deeply. What makes this book so great is in attempting to write about it, I am utterly failing to convey the appropriate amount of grace and insight that can be gleaned from a single page.
Good art makes you appreciate how other forms of art shape the way we experience the moments and people around us. “On This Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a tremendous novel on its own, but adding its perspective to the multitude of words, eyes and lips that exist in the modern artist leaves me wanting more art and beauty to devour.
I cannot wait to see where Ocean Vuong will take language in his writing, and I hope he provides the best inspiration for the future of voices and language.