2021 Shortlist

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous


2021 Shortlist

Dramatised reading of  On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, performed by Donaking Rongavilla. Produced by Bazar Productions.

ILFDublin X 2021 DUBLIN Literary Award Shortlist Podcast Ep 2: Ocean Vuong in conversation with Jessica Traynor.
Exclusive limited podcast series featuring the 2021 DUBLIN Literary Award Shortlisted authors and translators.

Comments from the Judges

Ocean Vuong’s stunning debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is characterised by the same lyricality and powerful use of language he employs in his poetry. The novel takes the form of an extended letter. A young Vietnamese America man writes to his mother sharing his story and revealing how his story’s inseparably bound to hers. As Vuong’s narrator finds his voice he entertains questions of class and ethnicity, language and sexuality. It’s a captivating and tender story shot through with moments of pure, unsettling humanity. Vuong wants his readers to see that even the most mundane of moments can be briefly gorgeous and transformative.

About the Novel

This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation.

About the Author

Ocean Vuong is the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, winner of the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. His writings have also been featured in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. In 2019 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor of English at UMass-Amherst. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is his first novel.

Librarian’s Comments

We are utterly impressed by this debut novel. It is a deeply moving and heartfelt, yet not sentimental, story of a brutal upbringing, of a young man’s journey towards maturity. Vuong writes with utmost confidence and control. He even writes interestingly about sex, scenes that are not there to spice up, but which are essential to the book. Deichman Oslo Public Library, Norway

A son writes letters to his Vietnamese Mother who cannot read, and works in a nail salon. This is a novel full of insight, brutal and poetic at the same time.Ocean Vuong´s language is simply pure magic. Stockholm Public Libraries, Sweden

Vietnamese, poor, gay, and gifted: those are the qualities least wanted in Trump’s America. Little Dog’s letter to his mother completes the puzzle of his family and his own biography. It’s like the cheap pink bicycle he gets as a child: in no time the bicycle is not pink any more and Little Dog is humiliated. His mother works in a shabby nail salon, a place run by the by the word «sorry». Still, after falling in love with a redneck boy, Little Dog makes it to a New York college. His mother will not be able to read his immensely sad and poetic letter because she’s illiterate. We remain witnesses of his story. University Library of Bern, Switzerland 

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a tender and raw coming of age story written in the form of a confessional letter addressed to the author’s own illiterate mother. His poetic debut novel explores the immigrant experience in America, a fractured but close-knit family and the generational trauma of war, and a young man discovering his sexuality. Richmond Public Library, USA

When we asked our staff to suggest titles for the Dublin Literary Award nomination, Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was a very clear favorite among our avid readers and book club leaders.

Shining a literary light on many important topics, the novel is an coming-of-age story that combines beautiful writing with narrative themes like immigration, family life, addiction, domestic violence, and sexual awakening. It’s clear that Vuong is an accomplished poet. His writing for this epistolary bildungsroman is lyrical and evocative. The narrative strikes the perfect note of making protagonist Little Dog’s specific experiences universally resonant with readers, centering the queer immigrant experience in a great American novel.

We are thrilled to nominate a great piece of literature from an important emerging literary voice in the United States. DC Public Library, USA


For library members in Ireland, this novel is available as an eBook and eAudiobook on BorrowBox.



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