On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Five out of five stars, without reservation. ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS is amazing. Vuong's deft hand with narrative creates poetry out of shifting timelines and fractured psyches, a swirl of memory of pain and loss that creates something so, so gorgeous.
I doubt my own ability to convince you to read the book, but maybe Vuong's own words can:
I remember how your eyes widened. I remember staring and staring at the end of your finger until, at last, an emerald blur ripened into realness. And I saw them. The birds. All of them. How they flourished like fruit as your mouth opened and closed and the words wouldn't stop coloring the trees. I remember forgetting the blood. I remember never looking down.
Yes, there was a war. Yes, we came from its epicenter. In that war, a woman gifted herself a new name--Lan--in that naming claimed herself beautiful, then made that beauty into something worth keeping. From that, a daughter was born, and from that daughter, a son.
All this time I told myself we were born from war--but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty.
Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence--but that violence, having passed through the
fruit, failed to spoil it.
ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS reminds me in a way of HEAVY by Kiese Laymon--the structure, perhaps, the epistolary second person addressed to a mother who may or may not ever read the book that's been made public, the dipping in and out of memory in multiple competing timelines. There are some thematic resonances, too--the hows and whys of loving damaged parents, as their (less?) damaged child who is figuring out how to be a person in spite of and because of and around and through everything that's been seen and done. The deep canyons history carves on our bodies. The way love holds the fractures together.