Already a celebrated poet of the present generation, Vuong, with his first novel ‘On earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous,’ shows that he is immensely talented when it comes to writing novels too. Born in 1988, Vuong is a receiver of the T.S. Eliot Prize along with Whitening Award for his poetry Night Sky With Exit Wounds.
On earth, We Are Briefly Gorgeous is a uniquely portrayed novel written in the form of a letter sent by a Viet-American writer to his illiterate mother, who could study only up to seventh as the school in which she studied fell prey to American napalm raid. It delves deep into the generational trauma, poverty, addiction, and violence.
On Earth, We are Briefly Gorgeous – Storyline
The son is aware that his mother may not read the confessional message written by him, as her English grasp is minimal. On earth, We Are Briefly Gorgeous is not about communicating directly. It is more about the harsh memories, their articulation, and processing. The son is trying to get free by grappling himself into the language limitations.
And the outcome is a broken narrative of a broken family, torn apart by hell-like experiences of a Vietnamese mother and grandmother. Little Dog, the narrator, remembers being abused by his mentally ill yet loving mother and his schoolmates. He finds his ultimate solace in a teenaged American drug addict who he falls in love with. However, his first love remains to be reading and writing, which ultimately leads him to understand his family’s history.
His grandmother Lan always came to his rescue even after being schizophrenic. At the age of ten, Little Dog tries to run away from home. But his grandmother reminds him that his mother loves him though she is mentally ill. She tells him stories as a fee for plucking her white hair. Slowly he starts understanding the reason why he is called Little Dog. She tells him about her past, broken marriage, and life as a sex worker. She also speaks about Lan’s American father.
He was taking the first steps of his life, Little Dog, aged 14, bikes miles to a tobacco farm at Hartford. He meets Trevor, who is 15, and a farmer’s grandson from whom he learns other brutal realities and pains of life. Trevor is suffering from a broken ankle and lives with his father at a nearby interstate. With his relationship with Trevor, Little Dog learns that sex can get a person closer, but language gets you even more profound.
The middle section of On earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous revolves around a predetermined type of obliteration, while the final part is more into annihilation. Little Dog writes to his mother that he knows death mark his book. Yet it is more about life and different ways of living it to the fullest. He tells her that both are not a result of war, but born out of beauty.
Vuong’s characters and their narration excel when he starts writing about beauty, freedom, and survival. The freedom is not actual freedom, where the cage and the bars are still there, but at a distance.