Title: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel
Author: Ocean Vuong
Published: 2019 (Penguin Press New York)
Genres: Novel, Literary Fiction, Poetry, LGBTQ
This past week I had the pleasure of reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. This book was beautiful from start to finish. It was poetry that told a story about the author’s relationship with his tumultuous mother through letters he wrote to her, because she couldn’t read. The book is a joyous and sad tale combined into one continuous reflection on what it means to be human and exist on this planet.
“All this time I told myself we were born from war– but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty.
Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence-but for that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it” – Ocean Vuong
Vuong’s wondrous book covered a variety of topics and themes including love, survival, loss, grief, roots, beauty, addiction and masculinity. The book felt like an adventure, told with romance, grief and violence. It captured me from beginning to end. It was like living in someone else’s nostalgia and struggles mixed with beauty in the small moments. I didn’t understand the author’s perspective since we are entirely different in characteristics and background, but stepping in his shoes was a privilege and I felt as though I learned a lot from his words.
“Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted” – Ocean Vuong
The author’s prose was striking, powerful and full of meaning coming from the author’s wishes he wanted to tell his mother. The book was completely human, and emulating truth of the author’s surroundings. It was heartbreaking to read, but also full of hope and renewal. The story definitely tugged at my heart strings. And for most of the book, I felt as though I couldn’t put it down. Even the well-written parts involving sex and violence left lingering sadness and resolve.
“Is that what art is? To be touched thinking what we feel is ours when, in the end, it was someone else, in longing, who finds us?” – Ocean Vuong
I definitely recommend this book, but be prepared to feel a mix of emotions that come from reading the author’s journey from Vietnam to America. His journey was not only geographical, but emotional as well. The author carries the haunting relationship with his mother in a way that truly made me in awe of him. This Asian American author has received a lot of merit for his writing, and for excellent reason. Please give this book a chance, you won’t regret it.
“Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey” – Ocean Vuong
Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5!