BOOK REVIEW: OCEAN VOUNG – ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS

Today, it’s a review I’ve been meaning to write for a long time but I just couldn’t find the words to express how I feel about this book – in a good way! Today, it’s all about Ocean Voung’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

This book is everywhere at the moment, especially on Instagram. There have been positive and negative reviews but a lot of love for it too. What’s it about? Here’s the blurb:

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 twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born a history whose epicentre 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 the American moment, immersed as it is 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.

I was so excited to get a copy of this as I was invested it by not only the blurb but also the gorgeous cover and title, too. I’ve not read his poetry before but with the great buzz around it, I had high expectations. As soon as I started reading it, I was hooked and captivated. Voung is a beautiful writer – I felt every word and every emotion. There were moments where I found myself tearing up, smiling the next, or even laughing. There are some gorgeous prose throughout the novel – some I kept re-reading just because it was so beautiful.

I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly.

There is so much to take away from this novel, especially in terms of it’s themes and ideas. It explores social class, masculinity, race, violence, sexuality, death and grief, and so much more. The novel is basically a letter from a son to his mother who cannot read and through this letter, we see Little Dog’s family history and we learn his story too about growing up.

I felt a huge connection with this book. I loved the exploration of relationships between sons and mothers and also a grandson and a grandmother, too. I feel that this should be addressed more in fiction and I found it a refreshing, emotional, tender read. I also really enjoyed the aspects of masculinity and sexuality as these are two issues that I’m interested in and I loved reading the relationship between Little Dog and Trevor – it was a beautiful and heartbreaking story. It’s a book that will make you think about your own life, your own story, your own narrative, just like Little Dog does. Such a beautiful, heartfelt book that’s not afraid to take risks. This is a book I’m not going to forget in a long time.

And because I am your son, I said, “Sorry”. Because I am your son, my apology had become, by then, an extension of myself. It was my Hello.

There’s a lot of buzz around this book, good and bad, but I think if this has interested you, take the chance and see if it’s for you and if you take something away from it. It’s a book that I feel, like books in general, will be down to personal connection with the book and how you respond to it. But for me, I loved it and I found it lyrically profound with many and many layers waiting to be discovered. I’m looking forward to reading his poetry and can’t wait to see what he writes next.

Have you read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you,

Corey.

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