On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“You’re a mother, Ma. You’re also a monster. But so am I –which is why I can't turn away from you.”
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the narrator, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known.
Little Dog reflects on his turbulent youth as a gay, immigrant boy and hopes that the act of remembering family history might heal longstanding wounds. Abused by his loving but mentally ill mother, Little Dog talks about the impacts of war, generational trauma, queerness, and the insidious manifestation of toxic masculinity. You will find yourself dwelling on single lines, running your fingers along with them in the wonder of their craft.
This semi-autobiographical novel is largely influenced by the author's personal life and experience, just like his previous work. As beautiful as the prose and lyricism is throughout, the novel requires a lot of patience. Each word has been polished to become so perfect that the overall effect seems to hide the content from the reader (well, from this reader) rather than draw them in. The language is often figurative, slowing down the reading experience. At such moments, I wished the narrator spoke more directly. As I got deeper into the novel, I kept wanting a clearer sense of where the story was going. As compelled as a reader might be by the beauty of the language, or the political force and wisdom of Vuong’s insights, it is a novel that loses its voltage through repetition.
This book is perfect for someone who prefers a read that focuses heavily on its writing style. Despite its polarising nature, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a must-read for everyone.