"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Friday, January 10, 2020

Review and quotes: ON EARTH WE'RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS

Title: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Book Beginnings quote:

Let me begin again.
     Dear Ma,
     I am writing to reach you---even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are.

Friday56 quote:
     In the Hartford I grew up in and the one you grow old in, we greet one another not with "Hello" or "How are you?" but by asking, our chins jabbing the air, "What's good?" I've heard this said in other parts of the country, but in Hartford, it was pervasive... Because being knocked down was already understood, already a given, it was the skin you wore. To ask What's good? was to move, right away, to joy. It was pushing aside what was inevitable to reach the exceptional. Not great or well or wonderful, but simply good. Because good was more than enough, was a precious spark we sought and harvested of and for one another. (212-214)
Summary: The narrator, Little Dog, a Vietnamese-American boy, now man, is writing a letter to his mother who speaks very little English, and cannot read any language. As the beginning quote states, he wants to reach his mother, but his words actually move him further from her as they form a barrier she cannot cross. Though born in Vietnam in a farming village, Little Dog, is now in America with his mother, and grandmother, via a refugee camp in the Philippines. The adults in his life are all traumatized by the war and the life they left behind. His father, who only makes a very small appearance in the book, is abusive to his mother before he leaves for good. His mother is traumatized and his grandmother, Lan, is schizophrenic but often steps in to save the boy from the mother's anger.
Before he could make out his mother's face, the backhand blasted the side of his head, followed by another, then more. A rain of it. A storm of mother. The boy's grandmother, hearing the screams, rushed in and, as if my instinct, knelt on all fours over the boy, making a small and feeble house with her frame (101). 
The letter that Little Dog writes, meanders around not in any chronological order, shining lights on events from his life and how these events shaped the boy, now man. For example, when Little Dog was fourteen he meets a boy, Trevor, while working on a tobacco farm. He instantly knows something about himself. "The boy from whom I learned there was something even more brutal and total than work---want (94).

In the end of the book, Little Dog tells his mom that he hopes, when she is reincarnated, that she will return and somehow find and read his book. And then she will remember.

Review: Vuong is an award-winning poet and in many ways this novel, his first, reads like one long poem, with phrasing and word choices to match that form. He also is a Vietnamese-American so the story feels like it is semi-autobiographical if not completely biographical. In fact, Jia Tolentino, writing for the New Yorker, commented that the first chapter was published by the magazine as a memoir. It is very easy to imagine that this was Vuong's life and as he writes down the details it is as if he is way off looking back, almost in a dream state.

At first I loved the book. Oh, the language. What imagery.

Then I hated the book. The cruelty and the confusing way that details appeared and disappeared. And the graphic nature of the gay sex. I'm not a prude but I don't like reading about graphic sex in any form so that was a big turn off.

Just about the time I was sure I couldn't finish the book, the form of the writing changed again and this time it was poetry. I was hooked again. (Pages 153-160.) By the time we make it to the end of the book it becomes clear that Little Dog (or Vuong himself) is grappling with his life and trying to make sense of his relationship with his mother. Is the letter more for himself? I'm not sure.

Will I recommend this book to you and to other readers? I doubt it. I know very few readers who really like to "work" while they are reading and one really does have stay sharp to keep pace with all the twists and turns and back-steps. However, if you like reading poetry and want to read an immigrants story from a different angle, this is the book for you. In so many ways, just as the title implies, this book is gorgeous.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
Th
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. (This week my quote was actually from page 214. I wanted to use it to make a point for the review.)


-Anne


20 comments:

  1. I don't think this one would be for me. I'm sorry you ended up disappointed in it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It does sound like a compelling concept for a book. Sorry to hear it wasn't what you hoped for. I hope that you enjoy your next read. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have this book on my TBR pile. I'll be curious to know what I think when I read it. I enjoy poetry and immigrant stories,so I have that going for me at least.

    What a powerful excerpt you shared!

    I'm so glad to know your thoughts on this one. Thank you for your insightful review.

    Have a great weekend, Anne.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sounds like a good one! I love memoirs! Happy weekend!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it is published as a novel, but it seems like it is a memoir.

      Delete
  5. I've seen the book mentioned everywhere, and thought I should definitely read it. Now I'm not so sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think it isn't one that you would like. But I would love for you to read it so we can talk about it.

      Delete
  6. I agree with you that the graphic sex would be a turn off, and having to work hard to read it makes me think I'll stick with the big pile of TBR books I'm trying to clear off my shelves. Thanks for commenting on my blog, too. I'll be back to read your thoughts about books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are so many good books which don't require extra work to figure out what is going on. Work through your TBR instead.

      Delete
  7. This is the first time I've heard about this book. It sounds really different and interesting, so I may keep an eye out for it and give it a try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It made it onto a lot of best of 2019 lists at the end of the year.

      Delete
  8. I'll take a pass on it, but thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love the title for this one. I actually really like these excerpts and am really intrigued.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love the title , too, and many parts were gorgeous.

      Delete
  10. Ouch. That beginning goes straight to the feels. The snippet is gorgeous and poignant, though. It sounds like a fabulous read, and it's definitely caught my attention. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for sharing! I hadn't seen this one before. Hope you have a great weekend! :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Boy this sounds like an odd read. Good job for sticking with it to the end and finding worth in the experience.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I kept seeing wonderful things about it, but I think I like things that connect to one another instead of meander, and this one seems to meander a lot... at least from your review.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm on the fence about this one. I'm curious is there any resolution at the end? Or is the ending worth while? I'm not exactly sure if it'd be for me.

    ReplyDelete

Your turn. Please comment below.