This is one beautiful book—transcendent and painful with a poet’s prose. Vuong, as reviewers have said, creates a new kind of immigrant novel. Written as a letter to a mother who cannot read English, the autobiographical narrator Little Dog shares his family history—his grandmother who married a veteran of the Vietnam war, his mother working in a nail salon, and himself growing up in Connecticut. Gorgeously constructed with reoccurring leitmotifs, Little Dog takes us through his impoverished childhood, instances of xenophobia, discovering his sexuality, and his love for a tragic young boy. This is a book for our moment—it’s all here: our fraught political moment, immigration, the opioid epidemic, the difficult inheritance of Vietnam. Gorgeous, destroying, and unforgettable. — Dafydd Wood
Like the best novels, Vuong’s debut demonstrates what is possible through language. The narrator writes a letter to his mother, with whom he immigrated to America from Vietnam as a young boy. Through his life and the lives of his family he reveals the inescapable momentum and violence of politics, war, and profit, which intertwine with personal ancestry and narrative. Also deeply rooted in his story is the scalding, life-giving force of love, which radiates from Vuong's writing. Like my favorite novels, it left me grateful. — Cathy Taylor
June 2019 Indie Next List
“Alright 2019, this is the novel to beat. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is the rare novel that makes you experience reading in a slightly different way and shows you that, no matter how many books you’ve read, something new and uniquely beautiful can still be found. The novel takes the form of a letter written by the main character, Little Dog, to his mother — an immigrant from Vietnam who cannot read. The power of Vuong’s poetic writing shimmers with every paragraph, and each phrase is a carefully considered, emotional journey. Grappling with themes of identity, sexuality, addiction, violence, and finding your place in a world where you feel you don’t belong, this book already feels like a modern classic, destined to be read and talked about for years to come.”
— Caleb Masters, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC
An instant New York Times Bestseller!
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Oprah.com, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.
“A lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal…Not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
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.
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.