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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 (343 ratings)

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Interview: Award-winning poet Ocean Vuong expounds on the complex themes of his deeply moving novel, ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’, touching on masculine identity, concepts of family, drug use, and more.

The ear is such a good editor when it comes to rhythm, pressure, momentum.

  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
  • The ear is such a good editor when it comes to rhythm, pressure, momentum.

Publisher's Summary

An instant New York Times best seller!

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 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)  

Editorial Review

The most powerful listen of the year so far

I don’t even really know where to begin in describing how much I loved this one. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, and to call it anything short of "stunning" would be an understatement. Vuong is a master of language, and it's obvious when listening to this how much thought and care went into crafting every sentence of this story. This novel, written as a letter from a son to his mother, will break your heart, and there’s no way around it. And since the author himself narrates, you get to experience the enthralling atmosphere that is his voice. I feel confident that when we look back on our favorite listens of the year, this will be a top contender. —Aaron S., Audible Editor

What members say

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Hmmmm.....

Can a book be too poetic ? So many beautiful sentences that it all runs together and nothing stands out? I’m conflicted. Part of me loves it and part of me thinks it was all just too much.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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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.

26 of 28 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.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • LJ
  • 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!

8 of 9 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.

53 of 68 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.

17 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Pretentious to the point of Annoying.

Part of me feels awful for rating this so poorly but it was just ...too bombastic for me.

Perhaps I would've entered into this book, with different expectations, had I known Vuong is a poet first and a novelist second, but I didn't.

Even so, I was excited to read and, at least at first, I wasn't disappointed; even with some of what felt like Stream of Consciousness writing.

It was interesting to learn about the connection Little Dog had with both his mother and grandmother and how those relationships at first stunted, but eventually allowed him to grow. It was clear his grandmother endured a tremendous amount of pain and suffering, and never recovered.

Pain his mother would inherit and, in some ways, duplicate, by entering into a relationship that was abuse in every way.

Little Dog's lack of a true father figure, beyond the brief appearance of Phil (his de facto grandfather), in a world where "masculinity" was seemingly the most important currency, would also become a factor in how he related to other men--specifically, it would color his interactions with Trevor; a young man who was clearly troubled and confused about his own masculinity in the face of his own sexual urges.

There was much here to absorb, but it was often disrupted by the use of too many words and an excessive attempt to make even the simplest of sentences into something more poetic.

Sometimes, a bloody nose is just a bloody nose and a glass of milk is just a glass of milk.

The constant need to do more, where less would've been better, made this hard to deal with as a novel. I expect grandiosity in poetry--poets are nothing if not obsessed with how clever they can be with words--but, in a novel ...sometimes less is more and it's best to know when to let a period do its best work.

If I'd chosen to read this in its physical form, as opposed to its audiobook cousin, I might have a different opinion, but ...alas, the voice of the author, as he read this to me was just ...too much!

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Fractured Story

I really wanted to like this story as I was eager to hear about a real Viatamese family growing up before and after the war and their struggles in America. However, the authors style of intertwining many different stories and timelines made it hard to follow. Also, the character development of Travis was shallow. The long descriptions and analogies went on and on and were hard to follow. I was tempted to not finish the book after the graphic description of the sex act with Travis which added little to the story for me . The descriptions of the sites were often flowery and poetic but very long and didn't fit in with the culture . Overall, the story line was fractured and left me not knowing what kind of a person Little Dog or Travis were, although Lan and Rose's characters were pretty well developed. Also, I was left with little hope for Little Dog and a deep sadness.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • BP
  • 07-11-19

Listen to this one.

Poetry, and yet, its prose. Such excellent visual presentation by a gifted poet! Not an easily listened to work, but an eye opener! I doubt anyone other than the author could have read this book.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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The last 1/2 of this book was so depressing!

I enjoyed the first two segments. I enjoyed hearing about the work he got during the summer, but then was lost in the blur of his homosexual firsts. After that it was sad, horrific and depressing. Nothing learned and no hope for the future.

11 of 16 people found this review helpful