I’ve never before read Ocean Vuong’s poetry, or have been a big poetry enthusiast in general. Even so, it is obvious this novel is the work of a poet. Every word is precise as it is beautiful; every sentence transports you to somewhere else — a scar on a lover’s neck becomes a comma, the violence that one is born in does not defy its beauty, the animals whose lives we follow through nature programs become ourselves.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous follows pieces of Little Dog’s life, whose name serves as a protection against evil spirits. The novel is in the form of a letter, addressed to Little Dog’s illiterate mother, in that “each word [he] puts down is one word further from where [the mother is].” It is a book that defies definition, defies simple summaries, that demands to be read and experienced. However, in broader terms, Vuong writes about family born from violence, about beauty, about love, about language and storytelling with clarity and precision.
There were exactly three points where I teared up – the most I’ve ever done reading a novel. There was one scene of the book where I found myself and my family in, that I felt exactly what the narrator was feeling, so that I couldn’t help but start to cry, for that feeling of recognition was a novel one, that for the first time in literature, I found bits of my life mirrored in that of a character. I didn’t even know that I was craving this glimpse before I had read it.
However, at times I did wish for more urgency, though I understand that the author’s reason behind the lack of a traditional plot. Because of this, the book was hard for me to get into at first, but after a while, I was pulled in, not by curiosity of events, but by the language and the relationship between characters.
This was, by all means, one of the best books I’ve read.