Fiction. Literature. LGBTQIA+ (Fiction.) HTML:An instant New York Times Bestseller! Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal in Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literacy Prize, and the PEN/Hemingway Debut Novel Award Shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Winner of the 2019 New England Book Award for Fiction! 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. â??A lyrical work of self-discovery thatâ??s shockingly intimate and insistently universalâ?¦Not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.â?ť â??Ron Charles, The Washington Post Poet Ocean Vuongâ??s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling On Earth Weâ??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 familyâ??s history that began before he was born â?? a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam â?? 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 Weâ??re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling oneâ??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. Named a Best Book of the Year by: GQ, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal, TIME, Esquire, The Washington Post, Apple, Good Housekeeping, The New Yorker, The New York Public Library, Elle.com, The Guardian, The A.V. Club, NPR, Lithub, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal Mag
So why didn't I like this book more? 1) Graphic scenes of abuse, both of people and animals. Near the beginning, there's a horrific scene of Vietnamese men sitting around a table with a hole cut in the center, out of which rises a monkey's head; they proceed to spoon out his brains and eat them, the monkey screaming as long as he is able. That just about did me in, but I pushed on . . . 2) Very graphic scenes of gay sex. I'm just not big on graphic sex scenes of any kind--straight, gay, with animals, whatever. 3) Heavy focus on drug abuse and the behavior of addicts when high. I know it's a problem in our society, and I hope something can be done about it, but I just don't want to read the depressing down and dirty about drug addiction. I would rather read about people trying to do something positive with their lives rather than about people destroying themselves. Obviously, for whatever reason, other people don't mind reading about these things, since the book has gotten such high ratings. So if you are still interested in it despite my own misgivings, be my guest. You might love and/or admire the book. I will say that Vuong's poetic background has given him mastery over the senses--you will vividly see, hear, smell, taste, and touch whatever he is describing--and his skill at creating atmosphere will work on your emotions as well.
I realize that I'm not writing anything about the "plot" here. It's not that kind of novel. There is a storyline and there is forward progress, but this is less story than it is journey.
A few quotes:
â€śIsnâ€™t that the saddest thing in the world, Ma? A common forced to be a period?â€ť
â€śWhat if my sadness is actually my most brutal teacher?â€ť
â€śWe can survive our lives, but not our skin.â€ť
â€śIt was beauty, I learned, that we risked ourselves for.â€ť
â€śFathers were phantoms, dipping in and out of their childrenâ€™s lives.â€ť
Vuong tells his story in the form of a letter written to his mother, a letter he doubts she will ever read since at the end of the day after working at the nail salon for too many hours, she will be too tired,(not to mention she is illiterate).As readers we hear about his grandmother Lan, how she survived the last days of Saigon by using her beauty, how a Virginian jazz lover turned GI married her and relocated her to America.( "Paul played music to get awayâ€”and when his old man tore up his application for music school, Paul got even further, all the way to the enlistment office, and found himself, at nineteen, in South East Asia".)
This is his family: Lan, her daughter Rose, and this boy named Little Dog,( so that the evil spirits might look past him in their quest to do harm). "To love something, then, is to name it after something so worthless it might be left untouchedâ€”and alive. A name, thin as air, can also be a shield." The customs of Vietnam infiltrate this boy's life as he grows up in Hartford, Connecticut, bullied by his peers and confused over his attraction to another boy named Trevor. The novel dedicates time to each of their stories, mostly in remembrances being written in the letter. Vuong's haunting images of GIs eating monkey brains, and buffaloes plunging blindly off cliffs just add to the details of this compelling story of a family and one boy's struggle with a doomed relationship. His narratives about trailer park life in a world where OxyContin has taken over any kind of American Dream are vivid, upsetting, but important to understand. The novel is also about language. For Little Dog, he is his family's translator, giving him power in the family, but not enough to escape the abusiveness of mother, who suffers from mental illness. "The time with the kitchen knifeâ€”the one you picked up, then put down, shaking, saying quietly, â€śGet out. Get out.â€ť And I ran out the door, down the black summer streets. I ran until I forgot I was ten, until my heartbeat was all I could hear of myself."
Though I will admit to some passages of uncomfortable detail regarding Little Dog's and Trevor's relationship, this is an important work by a voice worth hearing.
I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasnâ€™t trying to make a sentenceâ€”I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.
Despite being your mother, she is nothing like you; her skin three shades darker, the color of dirt after a rainstorm, spread over a skeletal face whose eyes shone like chipped glass.
How, as a young woman living in a wartime city for the first time with no family, it was her body, her purple dress, that kept her alive.
â€śDrink,â€ť you said, your lips pouted with pride. â€śThis is American milk so youâ€™re gonna grow a lot. No doubt about it.â€ť I drank so much of that cold milk it grew tasteless on my numbed tongue.
As a girl, you watched, from a banana grove, your schoolhouse collapse after an American napalm raid. At five, you never stepped into a classroom again. Our mother tongue, then, is no mother at allâ€”but an orphan. Our Vietnamese a time capsule, a mark of where your education ended, ashed. Ma, to speak in our mother tongue is to speak only partially in Vietnamese, but entirely in war.
The shots are held by arms that belong to men who will soon cut open the macaqueâ€™s skull with a scalpel, open it like a lid on a jar. The men will take turns consuming the brain, dipped in alcohol or swallowed with cloves of garlic from a porcelain plate, all while the monkey kicks beneath them.
I remember walking with you to the grocery store, my fatherâ€™s wages in your hands. How, by then, he had beaten you only twiceâ€”which meant there was still hope it would be the last.
It'd be precise to say this novel is ambitious; its themes touch on racial discrimination, the Vietnam war, queerness, and trauma but whilst this is admirable it tends to go off on tangents. It becomes its downfall as well. As the novel claims to be a letter to his mother, there are times when it implodes onto itself without acknowledging the receiver until 'Ma' is again called upon, written, or encountered. How it's further written in a prose sometimes awkward (examples would be using the colour of Elmo to describe blood, "It's not fair that the word laughter is trapped inside slaughter", and "The living room was miserable with laughter") yet definitely has its moments of emotional percipience ("They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they can love it.") is a little off-putting. Whilst these aren't completely terrible, the nonlinear structure of the book can also create a disconnect and may push back its otherwise intimate sincerity and occasional tenderness. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is devastatingly raw and honest; there are glimpses of beauty in its ruins; a need to be loved spills from its crevices. But unfortunately a sleepless night is exhaustive. Sometimes you only want to remember through dreams. At least, it's the case for me.
Moving backward and forward in time - much like our memories often do - the narrator "Little Dog" brings forward family memories
The book is very emotionally powerful and so well written.
And it's hard, really, really hard, to be an animal. There was such animal cruelty in this book that I can't get it out of my mind. I really wish I could. I don't understand the mindset of the people who did, and continue to, treat animals with extreme barbarism.
The sex was more explicit than I am comfortable reading. That's were the writing let me down, where it seemed like gratuitous semi-porn.
I listened to the Audible edition of this book, and the author narrated her own work. For me, her voice was too breathy, too self-aware. But the narration was minor. The brutality was not.
I've vacillated between 2 and 3 stars, even though I recognize that this is a well regarded book, so I'll settle on 2 Â˝.
The novel is imagist more than event-centred, a portrait of
It is tempting to read it as autobiographical. It's unclear how much is Vuong's intention, this invitation to map specifics from his novel to details of his life story, and how much that broad suggestion is lazy marketing. I tried to remind myself regularly, Vuong never says he is Little Dog. Though listening to some interviews (On Being pod, others), the parallels are clear between certain features of his life and Little Dog's life. Still, an author writing from personal experience is not the same as writing an autobiography. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the meaning of the book as biography, or to make assumptions about Vuong's life based on the book.
Out of anything I've ever read and offered up an opinion, I understood where those books fit in my literary world. Not this one. Some sentences were captivating enough to be read more than once. Some sentences made no sense. I know. We could call this poetic license. And this brilliant writer exercising creativity, taking and bending his work into a novel, truly, such an effort ought to leave a reader breathless and in awe. Instead, I was sort of puzzled. Not confused. Puzzled.
As I read along - and believe me, there were some scenes in this book that blew my mind - and I did LOVE them, but what failed (for me) was this whole format of a letter to his mother, the letter which we all know she may never read. I thought of him, "Little Dog," sitting on his couch, looking at a photograph book - and the pictures - like in many photograph books, are out of sequence. And with each one he comes to, it was as if he began the narration about that particular scene, what was happening, how he felt, what it meant to him, and so forth.
And the ending? Well, it was so free form, so stream of consciousness that I skimmed it.
I didn't hate the book, but I didn't love the book. It sort of makes me sad because I wanted to love it, you know?
I use Post-Its while I read a book, to mark plot points, but mostly to mark well-written and moving passages. I later remove the Post-Its and write what was marked into one of my book journals. This book now resembles a bushy Post-Its porcupine because of the huge numbers of stunning phrases and passages marked. This is an amazing book.
This book is written as a letter from a son to his mother, who will
This novel is bleak, and is made bleaker by Ocean Vuong's writing, which forces the reader into witnessing each vivid scene. There's no plot, and questions about events often are answered long after they've been raised. Vuong's writing is, well, gorgeous and not without hope. Still, although I think the book is brilliant and noteworthy, I don't think I want to reread it any time soon. It left me drained and not entirely sure that the images Vuong put into my head are images I want to retain.
You steer the Toyota home, me silent beside you. It seems the rain will return this evening and all night the town will be rinsed, the trees lining the freeways dripping in the metallic dark. Over dinner, I'll pull in my chair and, taking off my hood, a sprig of hay caught there from the barn weeks before will stick out from my black hair. You will reach over, brush it off, and shake your head as you take in the son you decided to keep.
Quotes: "They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they can love it."
"The truth is one nation, under drugs, under drones."
"The two a.m. gunshots, the two p.m. gunshots, the wives and girlfriends with black eyes and cut lips, who return your gaze with lifted chins, as if to say, Mind your business."
"All freedom is relative and sometimes it's no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you."
"Remember, don't draw attention to yourself. You're already Vietnamese."
I was wondering if this might be autofiction and it seems like it may be. It's wonderful writing but for some reason I struggled.