Andrea’s Pick of the Week: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

I was captivated right off the bat by this book’s title and cover. Both are such perfect representations of what is inside: enigmatic, a little dirt-stained, filled with many shades of gray — but mostly, two people holding each other. The book radiates with love flowering in the most difficult circumstances. It’s the story of Little Dog, a boy born in Vietnam who moves to Connecticut with his mother, aunt and grandmother when he is six. In a letter written to his mother, he shares a brutally honest recollection of his coming-of-age in Hartford, grappling with poverty, alienation, and his grandmother’s mental illness, a legacy of the Vietnam War. As a teenager cutting tobacco outside the city, Little Dog meets Trevor, a troubled young man trying to cope with his alcoholic father, and the two begin an affair that forever alters Little Dog.

Raw, tragic, luminous: this is a book that is so beautifully written, with so many layers of meaning, that many passages beg to be read again. The words flow together lightly, like butterflies, but pack a big punch. In fact, the first chapter references butterflies – one of many stunning metaphors Vuong uses to tell his story. He is an award-winning poet, and sections of the book read like prose poems. With its difficult topics, this is not an easy book to read, but it’s utterly mesmerizing. Briefly Gorgeous, indeed.

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