AMERICAN-VIETNAMESE Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’, explores relationships, sexuality and the life of an immigrant — all through a letter from a boy to his illiterate mother.
Vuong first rose to fame in the literary world through his poetry. He was the recipient of the 2014 Ruth Lilly/Sargent Rosenberg fellowship from the Poetry Foundation as well as the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his poetry.
His collection, ‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ told stories that served as a gateway to his experience with his father, his family’s move to America and his sexuality as well. Vuong has drew similar elements from his collection of poetry and brought it to life onto his debut novel.
‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ tells the story of ‘Little Dog’, the son of Vietnamese immigrant parents in the US, whose father shortly-after disappears after a series of shady events.
Little Dog’s perspective gives us a glimpse into his childhood, recalling his experience of being bullied for his effeminacy and his further exploration of his sexuality upon growing up.
Little Dog’s time with both his mother and grandmother gives an insight to the lives of immigrants during the Vietnam War period and how Little Dog himself, who had moved to America while he was young, escapes from his own struggles through reading and writing.
Plucking inspiration from his own interest in autobiographies, Vuong’s debut cements itself as a fictional autobiography recollecting events that could have taken place in his early days.
Vuong’s writing throughout his debut showcases his most prized skill, his observational skills. His writing, at its best is able to present specific details, allowing readers to unconsciously live through them. Bringing both his Vietnamese heritage and his American upbringing together seamlessly; Vuong has successfully raised the struggles of being an immigrant through Little Dog’s perspective.
He is also able to make the book relatable to his readers by showcasing Little Dog’s fervent attempt at becoming an “American” which in return shows the constant need for immigrant kids to break into that privileged circle of a community while bearing doubts on a privilege that was never presented to them.
The story is mostly dominated by Little Dog’s coming-of-age plot with side plots of his time with his mother and grandmother as well as Little Dog’s first exploration of sexuality and masculinity with Trevor.
Vuong’s writing soars beautifully with every page, describing every instance so meticulously that he is able to explore heavy subject matters with ease.
‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ (Penguin Press; June 2019) emerges as a successful feat as debut by Ocean Vuong and having been considered under the 2019 National Book Awards longlist says it all.