Goodbye letters in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

During the time of its 2019 release, Vuongs debut novel was an insant New York Times Best Seller. Until now, novel continues to be one of Vuongs fan favorites.

Photo Credit: Penguin Press

During the time of its 2019 release, Vuong’s debut novel was an insant New York Times Best Seller. Until now, novel continues to be one of Vuong’s fan favorites.

By: Rachelle Saerang, Editor

An ode to his mother, Ocean Vuong writes letters that can’t reach her in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. He recalls his childhood with his late mother, exploring the difficulties living with a single, low-income, immigrant parent.


Ocean Vuong 

The Vietnam-born American poet, novelist, and essayist, was raised in Hartford, Connecticut. Beginning in Manchester Community College, he transferred to Pace University where he eventually dropped out. At Brooklyn College, he graduated with a Bachelors in Nineteenth Century Literature. Later receiving a Masters in Poetry at NYU. Currently, he continues to publish writing as a Creative Writing Professor at NYU.

In his works, Vuong often takes inspiration from the childhood he spent with his mother and grandmother: a household of nail salon and factory laborers. He constantly explores ideas of identity as a product of rape, without a paternal figure, in gender and race identity, and experiences in all kinds of loss.

Vuong is a recipient of the 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant and winner of the Whiting Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was long-listed for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction. Other published writings of his include Time is Mother (2022), Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016), No (2013) and Burnings (2010). His works have been translated into 37 languages. 



In his debut novel, Vuong writes a sort of coming-of-age dedicated to the life he shared with his late mother. Written in the format of letters, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an autobiography. He realizes his fractured home is a result of the Vietnam War, the war his mother experienced first hand. His mother suffered from an undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the war that forced her to leave her country. In his series of letters, he explains his childhood memories of growing up queer, Vietnamese, without economic stability, and in a single parent household. He takes time to reflect on the life he shared with his mother, sympathizes because of her hardships in life and learns to forgive her.

Vuong brings readers to his journey of a young boy, an impressionable teenager and an exploring young adult. He recalls constantly being away with his mother, yet always having her on speed dial. She was always his support even despite their complicated relationship. With this novel, Vuong wishes to share the life motto that he still stands by. As a radio show guest on NPR Illinois, he reveals an encouraging quote from his mother: “…whatever you want to do, as long as you’re happy, you can do it.” 



On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is for anyone who wants a good cry when reflecting on family. It’s for anyone seeking representation of their non nuclear family complex or for anyone willing to understand such. Even in a novel, Ocean Vuong is able to carry on his poetic diction as an original poet. Out of 5, I rate this book a 4.5. The novel shares a universal message as it can be relatable to anyone with a rough childhood or a complicated family dynamic. 


Where to Buy

It is available on Penguin Random House, Barnes and Noble and Amazon