Poetic, Painful and Revealing, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong Has So Much to Offer.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

My Review: 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a wonderfully rich story, in the form of a letter, written by a Vietnamese son to his mother who will most likely never read it.  She is illiterate and has had a difficult life of her own, which has influenced her parenting skills and contributed to her mental health.  Overloaded with the burden of abuse, feeling like an outcast not being a white American and battling with his own sexuality, the adult son comes to terms with his vulnerability, his abusive and unreliable upbringing, his first intimate relationship and his feelings for his mother and grandmother, all while he fearlessly and unapologetically tells the story of his childhood and his search for acceptance.

In the form of a letter to his mother, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has many tangents that accommodate the author’s trains of thought.  It is self-reflective and written poetically, infused with insight gained with age.  As the narrator looks back, he describes in detail how kids picked on him, and his mother could not help him because she didn’t speak English.  She hit him until he was 13 years old;  her violent tendencies possibly due to mental illness.  He describes in detail, play by play, his first sexual encounter with another young boy.  Expertly conveying the roughness and the tenderness, he reveals his vulnerable and insecure self with no apologies.  So much of what he shares is painful and sad, yet we witness glimmers of self-acceptance at his personal turning point when he looked in the mirror and saw something someone could love.

“To be gorgeous (like sunset), you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”

The author makes interesting structural choices in his novel.  He used Moby Dick by Herman Melville as a guide; exploring tangents surrounding the main story to give background and context.  The letter format of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous allows the writer to say whatever he chooses without having to worry about a beginning, middle and end, a character arc or a formal conclusion.

Ocean Vuong is a poet and his book is autobiographical in many ways, although we don’t know all of what is fact or fiction. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because he takes us on a unique and beautiful journey; one of a life that is not easy.  He nourishes the actual happenings with details of family, tradition, superstition and cultural history which enhance our understanding of this boy.  The writing is rich and vibrant, the subject matter excruciatingly painful at times; an unusual combination that makes this a slow, fully absorbing and fulfilling read.

Jennifer Blankfein

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Group

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Book Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My book group enjoyed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; some of us listened to it and enjoyed the author’s voice and emotion while others preferred to read so they could take the time to absorb the beautiful language.  We found it challenging in our discussion to keep the author and the narrator separate – drawing the line between truth and fiction was murky but in the end we all appreciated the writing and the story.  Check out Ocean Vuong’s late night conversation with Seth Meyers to get a feel for what he is like!

Ocean Vuong Interview with Seth Meyers

Goodreads Summary

Ocean Vuong - author

About the Author:

Ocean Vuong is the author of the debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 15 other languages worldwide. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.

Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Justin Trudeau, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, VICE, The Fantastic Man, and The New Yorker.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at Umass-Amherst.

The Unexpected Daughter by Sheryl Parbhoo

34119199.jpg

As stated in Goodreads:

Three people’s lives intersect in a tumultuous yet redeeming way that none of them could have ever predicted. Jenny is a young professional from the South with an upbringing she wants to forget. She meets Roshan, an Indian immigrant who has moved to the United States with his mother, Esha, to escape family ghosts. With strong cultural tradition, Esha has devoted her entire life to her only child, both for his own good and for her personal protection from a painful past. Roshan understands his role as his mother’s refuge, and from an early age, he commits himself to caring for her. But when Jenny and Roshan embark on a forbidden, intercultural relationship, all three get tangled into an inseparable web—betrayal, violence, and shame—leaving them forced to make choices about love and family they never wanted to make while finding peace where they never expected to look.

 

My Comments:

I loved this story, enjoyed following each character as they fought their own personal battles and learned a lot about Indian culture and tradition along the way!  Roshan and Jenny have a unique friendship that grows into more but they resist the temptation to commit, he due to his Indian background, customs and parental influences, and she due to her fear of abandonment, and her difficult upbringing surrounded by poverty and addiction.  After fighting the attraction, going their separate ways and living their lives apart for a decade, they come together and are faced with the same obstacles and more.  As author Sheryl Parbhoo shows us in The Unexpected Daughter, it is impossible to escape our formative years, good or bad; it is a part of who we are and how we live in this world.  What we can do is make good decisions for ourselves, embrace opportunities, live authentically and love with an open heart.

One of my favorite types of books is a story of immigration, assimilation and the mixing of cultures.  The Unexpected Daughter delivers all of that so well as the backdrop with a rollercoaster ride of a story of a modern multicultural family as they come to terms with their past and grow together, navigating love, loyalty, addiction, ambition, death, birth and celebration….Life.    A wonderful debut!

Order on AMAZON today!

 

16377871.jpg

Sheryl Parbhoo is an author, blogger, educator, and mother of five. A native southerner, her interest in the intricacies of human culture led to a BA in Anthropology from the University of Memphis. Her longing for the spice of life culminated when she married her high school sweetheart, a South African Indian immigrant, and became a stay-at-home mom to their five children for over 20 years. After diligent, dedicated PTA and Room Mom duties, she earned a BS in Education from Kennesaw State University, becoming an ESOL teacher, focusing on immigrant students from Mexico and Guatemala.

Sheryl is known worldwide for her blog, Southern Life Indian Wife, where for four years she has shared stories from her spicy masala/southern cornbread way of life raising her large multicultural family and navigating the quirks of Southern and Indian in-law relationships. These, along with the responses received from readers, are the real-life inspirations for her novel, The Unexpected Daughter.

On sherylparbhoo.com, Sheryl shares her love of writing and personal experiences as a writer. She has been a featured contributor for Masalamommas.com, Twins Magazine, among others. She and her family’s blended cultural traditions have been highlighted on PBSNewshour.com, as well as on various online sites.