On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
Ocean Vuong won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2017 for his poetry collection ‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ in which he drew on his family history: his grandfather was a US soldier posted to Vietnam during the war; his mother gave birth to him when she was 18 and working in Saigon. For his debut novel he has also mined his history for a story that takes the form of an extended letter from a son, now in his late twenties and affectionately known as Little Dog, to his mother. It’s an interesting device, and weighted with poignancy as we are told the mother cannot read, so will never be able to digest the letter’s contents. In it we learn, in piecemeal style, about the relationships between Little Dog, his mother and grandmother, and their lives in both Vietnam and the US where they now all live. It’s a portrait that manages to be both tender and brutal, and while it lacks a real narrative pull the rich poetry it contains holds your attention throughout.