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„Do you ever wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling, not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn’t have to live on one side or the other?”
In his debut novel, Vuong assumes the voice of Little Dog, who writes a letter to his illiterate mother. Little Dog grows up in Hartfort as the gay son of a Vietnamese immigrant who comes to America with her mother and sister to make a better life for her family. Half American, half Vietnamese, his mother the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American GI, her education is cut short by Napalm raids. She works in a nail salon, giving everything for her family and wanting almost nothing in return. It is also the story of Little Dog’s first love, Trevor, whom he meets during harvest season on a tobacco farm. It is a story of growing up as a gay Immigrant, always different from the rest, a story of finding your place in the world, getting over the destruction of war, of drugs, and a story of love.
The book reads like poetry, with many sentences so beautiful I just wanted to lose myself in them and never come back up for air. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but it was not an easy read. The prose is so intense, so beautiful, I often had to pause and re-read some parts of this book to understand the storyline, instead of getting lost in the beauty of the words. Vuong jumps around quite a bit with the story, and often it felt like it was more about the prose than about actually telling a congruent story from start to finish. This made it at times hard to follow, and why I am giving it only four out of five starts. A truly beautiful and remarkable debut, which I can fully recommend. I look forward to Vuong’s future works!
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**THE SUNDAY TIMES and NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER**
Brilliant, heartbreaking, tender, and highly original - poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a sweeping and shattering portrait of a family, and a testament to the redemptive power of storytelling
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born - a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam - and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to the American moment, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.
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