What We're Reading: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

We all come from different places yet share the same path - so why can’t we just be a little more open to one another?

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.jpg

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

Words, Jeff Sobel

Image, Penguin Press

Openness.  In a world and especially a country so rigid, so stressed on definitions and categories, this story reminds us of the importance of being open.  We find comfort in clearcut borders and definitions that delineate who one is supposed to be and where they belong, but at our core we’re all just humans temporarily sharing this earth.  We can’t separate one another anymore than we can separate our memories.  The past is never gone as our traumas and loves all swirl together inside us without walls of segregation.  We all come from different places yet share the same path - so why can’t we just be a little more open to one another?

‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ is structured as a letter from son to mother, but of course ‘structured’ is the last word that should be used.  Vuong, a poet, painted this novel in such a unique and beautiful way that it’s difficult to describe -  just how he likes it, one imagines.

Lost in this letter we travel through a spiraling maze of three generations: grandmother and daughter surviving Vietnam only to endure more hardship in America where they raise a son named Little Dog.  As with many immigrant children he acts as an intermediary between American life and his family, as best he can.  We take so much for granted, not least of which is the simple ability to grab words from the air and express ourselves to loved ones, often an impossible task for a boy stuck between two languages, two worlds

Suffering waterfalls like raindrops from one leaf down to the next, a grandmother escaping the horrors of war to a daughter beaten by her husband only to then beat her son.  But with openness we can understand why the people we hate are also the people we love, and why we are willing to put ourselves through a lifetime of anguish if only for the briefest moments of happiness.

Many would describe this as a harrowing tale of survival, which it is, but I think Little Dog would say it’s really a story of blossoming.  Because no matter how poisoned the soil, the hope is if we tend our garden, even the tallest of sunflowers will not only grow and survive, but thrive.