On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (Vuong novel).png
First edition cover
AuthorOcean Vuong
Audio read byOcean Vuong
CountryUnited States
PublisherPenguin Press
Publication date
June 4, 2019
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
LC ClassPS3622.U96 O52 2019

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is the debut novel by Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong, published on June 4, 2019 by Penguin Press.[1] An epistolary novel, it is written in the form of a letter from a Vietnamese American son to his illiterate mother.


The novel is written in the form of a letter by a young Vietnamese American nicknamed Little Dog, whose life mirrors that of Ocean Vuong. The letter is written to Little Dog's mother Hong, more often called or translated as Rose (hồng).

The novel also recounts the life of Little Dog's grandmother, Lan, who escapes an arranged marriage during the Vietnam War and becomes a prostitute. She marries a white American soldier and gives birth to a child, although the father of the child is most likely another man. The child is Little Dog's mother, Rose. She is barely literate, having left school at the age of five when her schoolhouse in Vietnam collapsed during an American napalm raid. She suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result. Rose marries an abusive man but eventually separates from him.

Working in a nail salon, she struggles as a single parent living in Hartford, Connecticut with her son and her mother Lan. Living in America as refugees, the three can barely speak English. Little Dog, who is gay, is abused by his mother throughout his childhood. Halfway through the novel, Little Dog meets a young white man named Trevor while working on a tobacco farm one summer, and the two begin a romantic relationship. Trevor eventually becomes addicted to opioids and later overdoses and dies.[2][3][4][5][6][7]


The novel debuted at number six on the The New York Times Hardcover Fiction best-sellers list on June 23, 2019.[8] It spent six weeks on the list.[9]


The review aggregator website Book Marks reported that 58% of critics gave the novel a "rave" review, while 29% of the critics expressed "positive" impressions, and 13% gave "mixed" reviews, based on a sample of 38 reviews.[10]

Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a rave review, saying, "The result is an uncategorizable hybrid of what reads like memoir, bildungsroman, and book-length poem. More important than labels, though, is the novel's earnest and open-hearted belief in the necessity of stories and language for our survival. A raw and incandescently written foray into fiction by one of our most gifted poets."[11]

Ron Charles of The Washington Post praised the novel, calling it "permanently stunning".[12]

In his review for Time, Vietnamese-American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote, "Vuong refuses to be embarrassed. He transforms the emotional, the visceral, the individual into the political in an unforgettable–indeed, gorgeous–novel, a book that seeks to affect its readers as profoundly as Little Dog is affected".[13]

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Steph Cha called the novel "a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break."[14]

Dwight Garner of The New York Times gave the novel a mixed review, writing, "Vuong's writing about nail salons, and the way mothers raised their children in them, is moving and rarely less than excellent. "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" is, at the same time, filled with showy, affected writing, with forced catharses and swollen quasi-profundities. There are enough of these that this novel’s keel can lodge in the mud."[15]

The book was named one of the top ten books of 2019 by the Washington Post.[16]


  1. ^ "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong". Penguin Random House.
  2. ^ Min Hyoung Song (June 24, 2019). "The Beauty of Men: Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous"". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  3. ^ Zarley, B. David (July 17, 2019). "Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Reads More Like a Memoir Than a Novel". Paste.
  4. ^ Kuga, Mitchell (June 24, 2019). "Ocean Vuong Explores the Coming-of-Age of Queerness". GQ.
  5. ^ Chow, Kat (June 4, 2019). "Going Home With Ocean Vuong". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ Quong, Spencer (June 5, 2019). "Survival as a Creative Force: An Interview with Ocean Vuong". The Paris Review.
  7. ^ Hyde, Justine (August 16, 2019). "A poetic American novel of queer first love and family brutality". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  8. ^ "Hardcover Fiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. June 23, 2019.
  9. ^ "Hardcover Fiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. July 28, 2019.
  10. ^ "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous". Book Marks. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  11. ^ "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong". Kirkus Reviews. March 18, 2019.
  12. ^ Charles, Ron (May 28, 2019). "Ocean Vuong's 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' is permanently stunning". The Washington Post.
  13. ^ Nguyen, Viet Thanh (June 6, 2019). "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Is a Daring Tale of Queer Love and Pain". Time.
  14. ^ Cha, Steph (May 31, 2019). "Ocean Vuong's 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' animates the visceral beauty of youth". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ Garner, Dwight (May 27, 2019). "'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' Captures a Young Immigrant's Troubles and Ecstasies". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Best Books of 2019". The Washington Post. November 21, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2019.