On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous Is a Perfect Epistolary Novel

Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is nothing short of a masterpiece of written art.

2019 saw the great Ocean Vuong dive into the novel world with his first release On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. After his poems took over the world he has gone in a slightly new direction, although his writing always feels like poetry no matter in what form it is. 

In a novel where generational trauma, immigration, healing, identity, and a lot more are discussed, Ocean Vuong presented the world a masterpiece of a novel. One that’s presented in a very unique way and feels like a piece of literature from the future. 


Deeply Rooted Trauma 

The novel is presented as a letter from a kid to his mother. More and more is revealed as different themes show up. Immediately you are being shown the kind of childhood trauma that the little kid, or Little Dog as he’s referred to by his family, is dealing with. The story jumps to certain points in the kid’s life when his mother abused him physically. It may sound like it’s going to be difficult to read, but the amount of artistry that Vuong puts into his sentences is something to behold. There’s never a dull moment. Everything connects and the poetry in his words jumps out from page one. 

Little Dog’s mother Hong, and grandmother Lan’s stories are also told slowly but surely. Generational trauma is a big theme in the novel. How one person faced unfathomable tragedy yet sought escape to another country. How that person experienced all types of hardships just to arrive in a place where no one wants them. And, how this all affected a kid’s life who had little comprehension as to what was going on but deeply felt the pain his family was going through. 

The tale of an immigrant struggling to make ends meet is not a new one. However, the fact that the racism and the hatred that the story unravels is not new says a lot about the progress society has made. Not enough has changed over the last century to get people in a place of no judgement. The nonlinear storytelling of the novel serves as a tool to bring readers in and out of the tough times this fictional yet not-so-fictional family went through. 


The Impact 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is very much still being discussed as one of the best novels to come out in the last couple of years. A film adaptation has already been greenlit and the story will continue to impact people across generations. 

Not many novels can be felt so deeply by a reader. Vuong’s poetry is one of the best in the modern world. His novel is like a smooth poem that both makes you feel for the characters while simultaneously making you realize the importance of art. Vuong utilized the medium of writing as perfectly as anyone ever could. As time goes on he’ll surely only fine-tune his novel writing even more as we, the readers, are surely in for a treat in what’s to come. 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a must-read for lovers of poetry and good storytelling. A love letter to readers who are blessed to be able to experience such mastery. This epistolary novel is one that’s not going to be forgotten anytime soon. If you want to check out more of Vuong’s writing, his poems Scavengers and Trevor are a good place to start. 



Photo: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock


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