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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

A Novel
Narrated by: Ocean Vuong
Length: 7 hrs and 19 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (65 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

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 20s, 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. 

“An epistolary ­masterpiece.... Fearless, revelatory, extraordinary.” (Library Journal, 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)

©2019 Ocean Vuong (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“[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)

“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 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)  

What members say

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I never write reviews

I never (and I mean never) write reviews, but Vuong's new memoir is so remarkable that I couldn't help myself. This book is as moving and profound as his earlier collections, yet he's managed to blend poetic form and traditional narrative in a way so original and beautiful that you can't help but be held so still by his words.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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beautiful

will read again and again. language like a tide, cradles and crashes against you. great perspective for writers as well.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Beautifully written

Really beautiful writing. The flow is like poetry. The author does a great job with narration.

15 of 20 people found this review helpful

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beautifully poetic

Amazing book. Vuong writes in beautiful proses. Reading this book is like reading a long poem that you just don't want to end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • NB
  • 06-10-19

Beautifully written, but painful.

Beautifully written, but so depressing. Warning: a description of terrible animal torture that makes the whole book worth skipping. Traumatizing. Not recommended.

13 of 19 people found this review helpful

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A saturation of depth and beauty

Finally a book with layered meaning, poignancy and poetry. More than briefly gorgeous, a saturation of depth and beauty.

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  • LJ
  • NY, NY
  • 06-23-19

Transforming Shrapnel into Art

Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese-American writer, has made “art out of the shrapnel” of the Vietnam War.

Originally, the author spoke little English in the American city of Hartford. A “yellow” little boy, he tells us, he pieces together a humble life reflecting on how his different appearance matches a different sexual desire. This wanting and longing informs a large portion of the middle section of the book.

His writing has a fragile tenacity: the slightest observation is rendered palpable and visceral by his poetic skill which comes at you from so many angles that it is like a gentle assault. An assault that slaps your senses into the power of language to create beauty and reflect on the essential nature of our brief lives.

This epistolary novel, a letter to his mother, reflects on his early insecurities, inchoate understanding of his wanting another, the loss of his protective but schizophrenic maternal grandmother, and his mother’s PTSD whose main symptom is her violence against him.

There are so many metaphors that provoke reverie, but one moment of the novel revolves around the words, “I’m sorry, “ and I almost wept for the powerless among us. Those who are sold prescription pain killers which are addictive only to be blamed for this or those who work too many hours for too little pay. But when one considers death, then powerlessness would include us all. The glorious resolution of this sorrow is to be seen for one brief moment (a life). This gorgeous prose from a brilliant writer affirms dignity in the power of language to transform shrapnel into art. Bravo!

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painfully beautiful

loved it. beautiful, painful, brutal, joyful. As a queer adult daughter of Vietnamese refugees myself I totally relate.

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So powerful, so relevant, so touching

An incredible, beautifully written and narrated book. Imagery that is so vivid that that you can feel the authors emotions, leaving you crying, saddened and renewed.

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Unnecessary, miserable drivel

I didn't get the point of this story. It's a combination of sad memoir and disjointed observations. Seriously, one of the worst things I've ever listened to. I kept waiting for a point, a resolution, something to connect all the vignettes, but that never happened. the author delivers his work in a dispassionate tone that added to my disappointment.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful