ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS BY OCEAN VUONG
Published by: Vintage
Date of publication: 2019
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.