“What were we before we were we? We must’ve been standing by the shoulder of a dirt road while the city burned. We must’ve been disappearing, like we are now.”
Ocean Vuong‘s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a movingly written coming of age story about a Vietnamese immigrant finding his place in the United States. What is most striking about this book, is its fluid, poetic style of writing and the unusual yet powerful metaphorical connections that Vuong makes to convey his feelings. Several times I found myself rereading pages of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous just to marvel at the beauty of the prose. For instance, Ocean writes:
“A page turning, is a wing lifted with no twin, and therefore no flight. And yet we are moved.”
Admittedly, Vuong’s style is unconventional – in many parts of the novel he uses no punctuation and has long, convoluted, run-on, stream-of-conscious sentences. Yet somehow he manages to grip the reader’s attention with the sheer simplistic, rawness of the emotions infused into every line. In a way, this highlights both his mastery of the English language as well as the fact that English was once a foreign tongue in which he struggled to express himself even at the most basic level. This linguistic duality gives birth to an exquisite melange of Vietnamese and English ideas which give On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous a unique perspective while recounting seemingly mundane aspects of life growing up as a poor immigrant. Going shopping for meat at the market, Being bullied at school, dealing with the death of his grandmother.
My only minor critique of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is that on a few occasions I found it overly sexually graphic. I feel that these details were perhaps unnecessary for the story to be captivating. I suspect this might be a turn-off for some readers and may cause them to be hesitant about reading further. However, I would encourage you to keep reading until the end as it worth it to experience this magnificent opus of Vuong.
Have you read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous? What about other writings from Ocean Vuong? What do you think about his writing? Please feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below. Thanks for stopping by.