This revelatory debut novel from poet Ocean Vuong gives lyrical voice to a queer, immigrant experience as it has never before been published. Little Dog is writing a letter to his single mother in a language she cannot read, reflecting on their shared becoming upon moving from Vietnam to Connecticut. Vuong's scope spans the Vietnam War, the significance of Tiger Woods, American poverty, queer sexual awakening, the very nature of language. Deeply intersectional and emotionally raw. You're left aglow in the potential of what can be articulated — and the heartbreak of what cannot. What parts of us are shared, what parts are seen, or what gets swept away. Recommended By Thomas L., Powells.com
Every sentence of On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous is a gift crafted with care and obsessive attention to the little details that make up our brief existence. This debut novel from poet Ocean Vuong is heartbreaking and revelatory, writing from a place writers rarely dare to tread. Recommended By Alex Y., Powells.com
Poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel chronicles the coming of age of Vietnamese American Little Dog. His journey to adulthood is complicated by his absent father, mentally ill mother, the PTSD of his grandmother, and the revelations about his grandfather. Working through themes of family, war, immigration, tradition, rebellion, addiction, and abuse, Vuong's stunning prose is so packed with poetic language, it blurs the line between the two. Focusing on Little Dog's newly discovered sexuality, and the wonder of his first true love, this novel is heartbreaking, funny, wise, and — indeed — gorgeous. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Ocean Vuong has written a true poet’s novel: a painfully perceptive and achingly beautiful reflection on American otherness. This book absolutely captured me. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous 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 — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
"Disarmingly frank, raw in subject matter but polished in style and language, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous reveals the strengths and limitations of human connection and the importance of speaking your truth." BookPage
"A bruised, breathtaking love letter never meant to be sent. A powerful testimony to magic and loss. A marvel." Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
"On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an ode to loss and struggle, to being a Vietnamese American, to Hartford, Connecticut, and it’s a compassionate epistolary ode to a mother who may or may not know how to read. I dog-eared so many pages the book almost collapsed — I almost did." Tommy Orange, author of There There
"On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous will be described — rightly — as luminous, shattering, urgent, necessary. But the word I keep circling back to is raw: that's how powerful the emotions here are, and how you'll feel after reading it — scoured down to bone. With a poet's precision, Ocean Vuong examines whether putting words to one's experience can bridge wounds that span generations, and whether it's ever possible to be truly heard by those we love most." Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere
About the Author
Ocean Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writings have also been featured in The Atlantic, Harper's, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is his first novel.