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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
A Novel
Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction!
An instant New York Times Bestseller!
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal!
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.
Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction!
An instant New York Times Bestseller!
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal!
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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover I

    Let me begin again.

    Dear Ma,

    What I am about to tell you you will never know. But so be it. I am writing to reach you-even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are. I am writing to go back to the time, at the rest stop in Virginia, when you stared, horror-struck, at the taxidermy buck hung over the soda machine by the restrooms, its antlers shadowing your face. In the car, you kept shaking your head. "I don't understand why they would do that. Can't they see it's a corpse? A corpse should go away, not get stuck forever like that."

    I think now of that buck, how you stared into its black glass eyes and saw your reflection, your whole body, warped in that lifeless mirror. How it was not the grotesque mounting of a decapitated animal that shook you-but that the taxidermy embodied a death that won't finish, a death that keeps dying as we walk past it to relieve ourselves.

    I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn't trying to make a sentence-I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.

    Autumn. Somewhere over Michigan, a colony of monarch butterflies, numbering more than fifteen thousand, are beginning their yearly migration south. In the span of two months, from September to November, they will move, one wing beat at a time, from southern Canada and the United States to portions of central Mexico, where they will spend the winter.

    They perch among us, on windowsills and chain-link fences, clotheslines still blurred from the just-hung weight of clothes, windowsills, the hood of a faded-blue Chevy, their wings folding slowly, as if being put away, before snapping once, into flight.

    It only takes a single night of frost to kill off a generation. To live, then, is a matter of time, of timing.

    That time when I was five or six and, playing a prank, leapt out at you from behind the hallway door, shouting, "Boom!" You screamed, face raked and twisted, then burst into sobs, clutched your chest as you leaned against the door, gasping. I stood bewildered, my toy army helmet tilted on my head. I was an American boy parroting what I saw on TV. I didn't know that the war was still inside you, that there was a war to begin with, that once it enters you it never leaves-but merely echoes, a sound forming the face of your own son. Boom.

    That time, in third grade, with the help of Mrs. Callahan, my ESL teacher, I read the first book that I loved, a children's book called Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco. In the story, when a girl and her grandmother spot a storm brewing on the green horizon, instead of shuttering the windows or nailing boards on the doors, they set out to bake a cake. I was unmoored by this act, its precarious yet bold refusal of common sense. As Mrs. Callahan stood behind me, her mouth at my ear, I was pulled deeper into the current of language. The story unfurled, its storm rolled in as she spoke, then rolled in once more as I repeated the words.

    To bake a cake in the eye of a storm; to feed yourself sugar on the cusp of danger. Because I am your son, this made perfect sense. The first time you hit me, I must have been four. A hand, a flash, a reckoning. My mouth a blaze of touch.

    The time I tried to teach you to read the way Mrs. Callahan taught me, my lips to your ear, my hand on yours, the words moving underneath the shadows we made. But that act (a son teaching his mother) reversed our hierarchies, and with it our identities, which, in this country, were already tenuous and tethered. After the stutters and false starts, the sentences warped or locked...
About the Author-
  • Ocean Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds and the New York Times bestselling novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. A recipient of the 2019 MacArthur "Genius" Grant, he is also the winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 1, 2019
    Poet Vuong’s frank first novel (after Night Sky with Exit Wounds) takes the form of a letter from a man to his illiterate mother in which 28-year-old Little Dog, a writer who’s left the impoverished Hartford, Conn., of his youth for New York City, retraces his coming of age. His childhood is marked by abuse from his overworked mother, as well as the traumas he’s inherited from his mother’s and grandmother’s experiences during the Vietnam War. Having left Vietnam with them as a young boy, and after the incarceration of his father, Little Dog’s attempts to assimilate include contending with language barriers and the banal cruelty of the supposedly well-intentioned. He must also adapt to the world as a gay man and as a writer—the novel’s beating heart rests in Little Dog’s first, doomed love affair with another teenage boy, and in his attempts to describe what being a writer truly is. Vuong’s prose shines in the intimate scenes between the young men, but sometimes the lyricism has a straining, vague quality (“They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer than they will love it”; “But the thing about forever is you can’t take it back”). Nevertheless, this is a haunting meditation on loss, love, and the limits of human connection.

  • AudioFile Magazine Ocean Vuong narrates the story of a young Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S. who is completing a letter to his mother, who cannot read. As both author and narrator, Vuong is in the perfect position to narrate the audiobook just as it was intended. His delivery gives even more power to the captivating prose, keeping the listener hooked as the main character, Little Dog, discovers what it means to be young, gay, and Vietnamese in a country that is not able to truly understand him. The listener is carried along with Vuong's voice, almost as if listening to a carefully crafted melody. V.B. � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
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A Novel
Ocean Vuong
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