Musings After Reading #3: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Vuong)


I’m back to tell you about another book and this time, it might be my favourite book I’ve came across this year so far!

Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ (amazing title btw) is a collection of short letter from the author to his mother (primarily), detailing his memories of both her and her mother/his grandma as well as other extended family members and people he meets in life. The letters reveal a complicated parent-child relationship. They also tell a story of migration from Vietnam to US. The idea that patriarchal men/white race/heterosexuality/English language are the status quo of the new home (both as separate identities and intersections of all 3) permeate the book and act as a background against which the main characters stand out.

The story is also very grounded, located in both in a wider physical world and a physical body. Bodily functions (like relieving oneself or going grey with age) are treated as normal rather than something to hide away from.

The writer of the book is originally a poet and you can feel his poetical sensibilities: the metaphors and parallels between different locations within a scene a just beautiful. In general, the whole writing is so emotional and vivid. The letters itself are printed out with line breaks instead of a continuous prose so that also changes the reading experience (I personally listened to the audiobook, so that was a different experience altogether- something akin to being in a poetry reading.

The writer’s ideas about sexuality and existence in a queer body were especially interesting. The parts about not being accepted in either of the places – old home and new home – were heartbreaking but revealing.

The open discussion of mental health as lived experience was also amazing.

I also loved how the author summed up life as a brief yet beautiful endeavour (like the title suggests). It was also interesting to see how he connected the idea of ‘being alive’ as confirmed by ‘being seen’ and yet how sight not only meant one’s existence but danger and vulnerability. To be seen is to be alive but to be seen also means to be in danger of being hurt by those who see you.

Published by Lou

Anti-social nerd, cinephile, and bookworm that is probably currently bopping along to some song or another and is also 75% radioactive fish, because she has spent half of her life in a chlorine-filled pool.

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