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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Yuong

There is no doubt that the title of this book is gorgeous, and that’s what attracted me to Ocean Vuong’s novel. The same poetry that is in the title also carries on throughout On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, allowing the reader to drift along through the life of a young man writing a letter to his illiterate mother.

The letter reveals the struggles the man, known affectionately as ‘Little Dog’ by his family, and his mother and grandmother experience, often as a result of the trauma suffered during the war in their original home of Vietnam.

It is a novel of the ways families survive, and the barriers and the mechanisms that help them endure. It is also a novel of loss, particularly in relation to Little Dog’s relationship with Trevor, a fellow worker on a US tobacco farm. It is a relationship that seems doomed from the start, in the face of Trevor’s father’s prejudices, and his own doubts and fears.

While I can see that this book is written beautifully, I feel that I picked it up at the wrong time – during a long-haul flight in which I was more concerned about getting to sleep than appreciating Vuong’s language, and the complexities and challenges of a family history such as Little Dog’s.

As a result, I think that I owe this book another read at a time when I am prepared to throw myself fully into what is undoubtedly I gorgeous novel.

Readability score: 7/10

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