On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


I finished this novel by the poet, Ocean Vuong, yesterday evening. It’s styled as a communication addressed to the narrator’s mother, and the reader can rely on the pronoun “you” as referring to her, a woman born in Vietnam during the war. This is not solely a mother/son story, however. Other personal relationships of the narrator equal or exceed–exceed, I think–the mother/son relationship: grandmother and friend/lover.

The back cover of this book is filled with “Advance Praise for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and yet Vuong writes this in a section of the book that moves into more poetry than prose:

“They will want you to succeed, but never more than them. They will write their names on your leash and call you necessary, call you urgent.”

So, I will not struggle to find words of praise but I will offer this bit of his text that stopped me and held me in its grip:

“A page, turning, is a wing lifted with no twin, and therefore no flight. And yet we are moved.”

(Do take a look at the Acknowledgments to the work of others at the end of the book.)

13 comments on “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong”

  1. Oh, I have to get my hands on this book. And find the right kind of quiet in which to read it. So glad that you have kept me reminded.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was on a long waiting list at the library and finally got this book. The timing is perfect; it’s the October pick for my bookclub. A coincidence: a good friend’s daughter, Sam Contis, always wanted to be an artist/photographer. She’s know 37, and she’s living her dream. She was part a MOMA exhibit last March featuring photographers showing their work at the MOMA for the first time. Her mom waited while I picked up books at the library. When she saw the book jacket of Vuong’s book she said, “That’s Sam’s photograph on the cover.” An unexpected connection. Vuong just won a MacArthur Genius Award. I just started the book. I certainly see why he received the award.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love hearing of this series of serendipitous events, Barbara. Still on a wait for this book myself…


  3. I have just finished listening to this book, read by the author. Would have liked to read it but library still closed so only availability is audio or ebook. I am left, really, without the language necessary to speak of it. So much twined together – racism, history, queer fear, the bonds between mothers and sons, and so much beauty.

    Another poem masquerading as a novel – like Apeirogon. Another breathtaking exploration of language. It gotta say, this book was very meta…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agree, Barbara. I’ve listened to it twice, and I posted a link to it in ModPo where the Global Study Group members were preparing to discuss his poem, “Essay on Craft.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad that so many people are enjoying the interview. I thought it was wonderful. I agree with Teri; it is a conversation one can sit in on more than once.


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