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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel Hardcover – June 4, 2019
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“With his radical approach to form and his daring mix of personal reflection, historical recollection and sexual exploration, Vuong is surely a literary descendant of [Walt Whitman]. Emerging from the most marginalized circumstances, he has produced a lyrical work of self-discovery that’s shockingly intimate and insistently universal…[The] narrative flows — rushing from one anecdote to another, swirling past and present, constantly swelling with poignancy…Vuong ties the private terrors of supposedly inconsequential people to the larger forces pulsing through America…At times, the tension between Little Dog’s passion and his concern seems to explode the very structure of traditional narrative, and the pages break apart into the lines of an evocative prose poem — not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
“In order to survive, Little Dog has to receive and reject another kind of violence, too: he must see his mother through the American eyes that scan her for weakness and incompetence and, at best, disregard her, the way that evil spirits might ignore a child named for a little dog. There is a staggering tenderness in the way that Little Dog holds all of this within himself, absorbing it and refusing to pass it on. Reading ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ can feel like watching an act of endurance art, or a slow, strange piece of magic in which bones become sonatas, to borrow one of Vuong’s metaphors.” —Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
“Ocean Vuong’s devastatingly beautiful first novel, as evocative as its title, is a painful but extraordinary coming-of-age story about surviving the aftermath of trauma…Vuong’s language soars as he writes of beauty, survival, and freedom, which sometimes isn’t freedom at all, but ‘simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there’… The title says it: Gorgeous.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org
“A stunningly written journey that…explores how race, masculinity, addiction and poverty are seen in our country—all topics that feel especially significant today.” — WSJ. Magazine
“Hands down, the book that carried me through the year was Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. I’m willing to bet this book carried legions of us, with the brutal and yet also tender beauty of the poetics, the intimacy between bodies, the weight of the heart suspended inside longing. This is a book that multiplies meanings, but at the center is a queer coming-of-age story as well as a bicultural family history. The shadow of a mother-son relationship and the shadow of the America-Vietnam relationship haunts the story. I fell in love with the narrator a hundred times over. I also felt suspended between the atomized mother who cannot fully understand the language of her son, a son’s attempt to both inhabit as well as break free from his own family history, and the force of nature it takes to wrestle the gap. The language went into my body.” —Lidia Yuknavitch, Vogue.com
“To read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is to experience a beginning again and again. It is to see the world as an open field, full of possibility.” —Rumpus
"A riot of feeling and sensation…delirious and star-bright…Vuong is pushing the boundaries of the novel form, reshaping the definition to fit the contours of his restless poetic exploration, using language to capture consciousness and being. The text spasms with memory like synapses firing in the dark…To read this book is to fill your whole life with it, albeit not briefly. Vuong’s is poetry that lingers in the blood long after the words have run out.” —Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
“Vuong is masterly at creating indelible, impressionistic images…Vuong beautifully evokes [Trevor’s] seductive power over Little Dog: This is some of the most moving writing I’ve read about two boys experimenting together…The book is brilliant in the way it pays attention not to what our thoughts make us feel, but to what our feelings make us think. To what kinds of truth does feeling lead? Oscar Wilde famously quipped that sentimentalism is wanting to have an emotion without paying for it, but Little Dog has paid and paid, and the truths arrived at in this book are valuable precisely because they are steeped in feeling.” —Justin Torres, The New York Times Book Review
“Vuong as a writer is daring. He goes where the hurt is, creating a novel saturated with yearning and ache…He transforms the emotional, the visceral, the individual into the political in an unforgettable–indeed, gorgeous–novel, a book that seeks to affect its readers as profoundly as Little Dog is affected, not only by his lover but also by the person who brought him into the world.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, TIME
“The novel is expansive and introspective, fragmented and dreamlike, a coming of age tale conveyed in images and anecdotes and explorations…Just as he fuels his prose with his poetry, Vuong takes what he needs from lived experience to animate his storytelling with visceral beauty and a strain of what feels like uncut truth…For the duration of this marvelous novel, Vuong holds our gaze and fills it with what he wills — the migration of butterflies, love in a tobacco barn, purple flowers gathered on a highway.” —Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
“[Vuong is] a remarkable storyteller… Depictions of poverty, queerness, and the immigrant experience are vivid, exacting, and humane… This book is no ordinary novel. This thing feels alive.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“The novel’s overarching structure is an ingenious representation of our failure — as members of families and communities, as fellow citizens — to understand one another…[This is] a distinctive, intimate novel that is also a reckoning with the Vietnam War’s long shadow…Vuong is a skillful, daring writer, and his first novel is a powerful one.” —Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
“A bildungsroman that vacillates between moments of piercing tenderness and savage brutality, set against quixotic hopes of the American Dream and the devastation of the opioid crisis. Vuong’s deeply felt work might just be the first great fiction of this modern, homegrown travesty, but it’s also a story that is enriched by both the beautiful and the ugly currents of American history.” —Chloe Schama, Vogue.com
“A diary of life on the margins of American society…For all that Vuong has to say about history, queerness, and American culture, everything about his book feels specific and personal.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture
“Lyrical…With this book, [Vuong] is creating an account of lives that are at once overlooked and thoroughly American. These days, this feels like a political act.”—Wall Street Journal
“Stunningly lyrical…We are witnessing something necessary and powerful with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which asks us to search what is human in us and ask what it really means to be alive, to seek truth within the mess that is life.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
“Dazzling…We see the power and purifying rage of Vuong’s prose.” —Julie Wittes Schlack, The ARTery on WBUR.org
“[A] raw, fearless debut…In prose as radiant and assured as his poetry, Vuong explores the ability of stories to heal generational wounds, and asks how we can rescue and transform one another in the wake of unimaginable loss.” —Esquire.com
“[On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous] captures a peculiar kind of American immigrant experience with all of its cultural ambiguity and heartbreak intact. For all of its pain, it never loses sight of the privilege of being alive.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A candid meditation on masculinity, art, and the inescapable pull of opioids…Vuong peels apart phrases and reconfigures them into new, surprising ideas.” —ELLE
“An epistolary masterpiece…Fearless, revelatory, extraordinary.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“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
“[Vuong’s] first foray into fiction is poetic in the deepest sense—not merely on the level of language, but in its structure and its intelligence…The result is an uncategorizable hybrid of what reads like memoir, bildungsroman, and book-length poem. More important than labels, though, is the novel's earnest and open-hearted belief in the necessity of stories and language for our survival. A raw and incandescently written foray into fiction by one of our most gifted poets.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“Casting a truly literary spell, Vuong's tale of language and origin, beauty and the power of story, is an enrapturing first novel.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Sometimes a writer comes along and stops your breath. I’m reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and there is so little air moving through my body as I read. When writing is this good, who needs air?” —Jacqueline Woodson, author of Red at the Bone
“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
“This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I always want my favorite poets to write novels and here it’s happened. Ocean Vuong is a master. This book a masterpiece. 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
“This book—gorgeous is right there in the title—finds incredible, aching beauty in the deep observation of love in many forms. Ocean Vuong's debut novel contains all the power of his poetry, and I finished the book knowing that we are seeing only the very beginning of his truly magnificent talent.”—Emma Straub, author of Modern Lovers and The Vacationers
“Ocean Vuong runs up against the limits of language—this book is addressed to a mother who cannot read it—and expands our sense of what literature can make visible, thinkable, felt across borders and generations and genres. This is a courageous, embodied inquiry into the tangle of colonial and personal histories. It is also a gorgeous argument for astonishment over irony—for the transformative possibilities of love.”—Ben Lerner, author of Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04
“One is not often given the chance to apply words like “brilliant” and “remarkable” to any novels, certainly not first novels. Thank you, Ocean Vuong, for this brilliant and remarkable first novel."—Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours
“[On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous] is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read, a literary marvel and a work of extraordinary humanity. It is about who we are, and how we find ourselves in our bodies, in each other, in countries, on this earth: truly a masterpiece.”—Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers
- Publisher : Penguin Press; First Edition (June 4, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525562028
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525562023
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.8 x 0.89 x 8.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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And to be honest, that’s what this book is: it contains everything. Open it and turn it around and around, for in it is the whole world.
I haven’t read a book I immediately want to restart in decades. Now this.
I have to recover.
Vuong has somehow produced a book as mind blowing as Night Sky With Exit Wounds, his most recent work of poetry.
Okay. Let me write some semblance of a review of content.
If you’re looking for plot, look elsewhere. Vuong has chosen, loosely, the epistolary form for his first novel. The book is one long letter to his mother. To be more accurate, it is a REWRITTEN letter to his mother, as Vuong tells us that previous drafts failed.
But in that letter is everything. It traces the speaker’s life (genre becomes useless here...the speaker is Ocean Vuong, but he’s not claiming that this is an autobiography. But I think Vuong would agree that everything we write, say, do, and feel is an autobiography) from childhood, to first love and sexual awakening to adulthood and loss.
That’s really it.
But there are more beautiful, elegant, soul crushingly fresh lines in this book than in 20 of greater length.
This has moved immediately into my all time top ten.
I can’t provide quotes because I’d have to rewrite the whole book.
The hype is not hype. It’s journalism.
Like floating in a river, reading ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS felt like being held in a cool embrace. One that turns warm the longer you’re held within it. Ocean Vuong’s words and story—poetry—flow gorgeously page to page as the story pulls you between the past and present of a mother and son whose love for each other is timeless.
Love. This letter bursts with love. The love that fills these pages has a subtle context that screams and pierces you through the heart. Words soar off the page and splash you with the reminder that you are love, you are loved, and you can love. More than what’s held in your gasp, as you turn each page, this book is truly something you can feel.
Top reviews from other countries
Sure, I read for pleasure and to keep at bay anxieties and worries that otherwise occupy my mind (that’s what my romance/chick-lit stacks are for) but my true love for the written word came from discovering the beauty of depth and emotion that’s hidden within the lyrical prose of select writers.
To say that the writing in this book is gorgeous would be an understatement. There is one measure I use to determine if I find a particular writer/book worth of high praise and that’s if it makes me jealous. And boy am I jealous of Vuong’s ability to write so rawly that it almost bruises you.
Of the top of my head, I have a few favorites when it comes to formidable, evocative but also heartbreaking writing, Yiyun Li, Haruki Murakami, Madeline Miller to name a few. Today I’ve just added Ocean Vuong to the list.
I’ve forgotten how much I love to stare at a phrase and reread it in my head until it involuntarily imprints itself in my memory . I tend to read a lot of “feel good, easy to digest” books with simple writing, for the obvious fact that I won’t dwell on them, I won’t torture myself with existential questions and most importantly I can file them away as soon as I’m done. There will be no extra burden on my mind, I won’t obsess for days questioning life, meaning, history, etc.
But sometimes I want to invite that kind of reaction, I want to feel, I wanna be awed and lured in by gorgeous words that cut deep and then I wanna be healed of their bruising force, by extending my own understanding and contemplation to their meaning and purpose.
I did all that with this book. And I loved every second of it.
I realise this sounds more like a diary entry than a review but I feel like I don’t need to talk about plot, characters, or any of the usual suspects because this book inspires so much more than a clinical analysis. So pick it up and enjoy it, don’t give it that much thought.
My only qualm, which stops me from making this a full five star review, is that it toes the line between poetry and prose a little uncomfortably at times. I'm a big fan of narrative poems (Max Porter is a fantastic contemporary poet to look into here), and a fan of more poetic prose, and this doesn't easily fit into either category. Which is fantastic! ...most of the time. There are just a couple instances where it was jarring, dull, or maybe a little unpolished. It's a hard style to edit though, so I wonder how much of this I can level at Vuong and how much it's truly the fault of his publishers.
Still a very beautiful novel that I have to say is worthy of all the praise it gets.