Review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong



Published by: Vintage

Date of publication: 2019

Source: Purchased

This 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. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.

“What were you before you met me?”

“I think I was drowning.”

“And what are you now?”



I had heard so many good things about Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, I was a little trepidatious to read it.  I was  intimidated by the promise of ‘poetic writing’ and I wasn’t sure I was ready for my heart to be broken.  

At it’s heart, this is a family history told through the eyes of a mixed race son in a letter to his Vietnamese mother.  It is a very thoughtful, soulful book, deep with emotion and beautifully crafted.  It is clear that the author is a poet but the language is not intimidating, as I had feared.  However, for me this kind of fell in between a plotless character study and a plot-driven story … kind of both and neither.  Perhaps my age-diminished brains cells just couldn’t grasp the point of it.  Perhaps due to the hype I was expecting too much and it left me feeling a little flat and just a bit … meh.  

Overall I did enjoy the experience of reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.  It was immersive and emotional and I’m glad I read it.  It just fell a little short of the mark for me, and I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped.

3/5 stars


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