If we had to count the number of times we call this book, raw and beautiful, and perfect, we’d end up counting to infinity. But, that’s not our fault because this book is actually perfect.
This book is actually Ocean’s debut novel which has now become a favorite of most readers. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has spent so many days living inside our heads that it’s really not healthy. Written as an epistolary novel, this book is told in a series of letters that will make you sob and cry and scream and think. Reading this book will be an experience, unlike anything you’ve felt before.
The book talks about love, language, pain, hands, hearts, country, crying, and everything one experiences. A Vietnamese-American poet, Ocean has touched countless hearts and we can only hope it stays the same.
“They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer than they can love it.”
“You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.”
“I miss you more than I remember you.”
“Because the sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”
“Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.”
“Too much joy, I swear, is lost in our desperation to keep it.”
“In Vietnamese, the word for missing someone and remembering them is the same: nhớ. Sometimes, when you ask me over the phone, Có nhớ mẹ không? I flinch, thinking you meant, Do you remember me? I miss you more than I remember you.”
“What were you before you met me?”
“I think I was drowning”
“And what are you now?”
“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.”
“I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly.”
“When does a war end? When can I say your name and have it mean only your name and not what you left behind?”
“Is that what art is? To be touched thinking what we feel is ours when, in the end, it was someone else, in longing, who finds us?”
“Did you know people get rich off of sadness? I want to meet the millionaire of American sadness. I want to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say, ‘it’s been an honor to serve my country.”
“I am writing you from inside a body that used to be yours. Which is to say, I am writing as a son.”
“Let no one mistake us for the fruit of violence – but that violence, having passed through the fruit, failed to spoil it.”
“Ma. You once told me that memory is a choice. But if you were god, you’d know it’s a flood.”
“Remember: The rules, like streets, can only take you to known places.”
“To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.”
“In a world myriad as ours, the gaze is a singular act: to look at something is to fill your whole life with it, if only briefly.”
“All this time I told myself we were born from war—but I was wrong, Ma. We were born from beauty.
“A page, turning, is a wing lifted with no twin, and therefore no flight. And yet we are moved.”
“The truth is we can survive our lives, but not our skin. But you know this already.”
“They say nothing lasts forever and I’m writing you in the voice of an endangered species.”
“They will want you to succeed, but never more than them. They will write their names on your leash and call you necessary, call you urgent.”
As a rule, be more. As a rule, I miss you. As a rule,”little” is always smaller than “small”. Don’t ask me why.
I’m sorry I keep saying How are you? when I really mean Are you happy?”
“The cruelest walls are made of glass.”
The thing is, I don’t want my sadness to be othered from me just as I don’t want my happiness to be othered. They’re both mine.
“I sit, with all my theories, metaphors, and equations, Shakespeare and Milton, Barthes, Du Fu, and Homer, masters of death who can’t, at last, teach me how to touch my dead.”
“Who will be lost in the story we tell ourselves? Who will be lost in ourselves? A story, after all, is a kind of swallowing. To open a mouth, in speech, is to leave only the bones, which remain untold.”
“I remember learning that saints were only people whose pain was notable, noted.”
“Sometimes you are erased before you are given the choice of stating who you are.”
“I believe the wound is also the place where the skin reencounters itself, asking of each end, where have you been?”
“No, sir, destruction is not necessary for art.” I said that, not because I was certain, but because I thought my saying it would help me believe it.”
“To be or not to be. That is the question. A question, yes, but not a choice.”
I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I don’t know what or who we are. Days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like a sound. I touch the world not as myself but as an echo of who I was. Can you hear me yet? Can you read me?”
“He loves me, he loves me not, we are taught to say, as we tear the flower from its flowerness. To arrive at love, then, is to arrive through obliteration. Eviscerate me, we mean to say, and I’ll tell you the truth.”
“Because something in him know she’d be there. That she was waiting. Because that’s what mothers do. They wait. They stand still until their children belong to someone else.”
“To love something, then, is to name it after something so worthless it might be left untouched—and alive.”
“To destroy a people, then, is to set them back in time.”
“Isn’t that the saddest thing in the world, Ma? A comma forced to be a period?”
“The children, the veal, they stand very still because tenderness depends on how little the world touches you. To stay tender, the weight of your life cannot lean on your bones.”
“Our hands empty except for our hands.”
“What a terrible life, I think now, to have to move so fast just to stay in one place.”
“Ma, to speak in our mother tongue is to speak only partially in Vietnamese, but entirely in war.”
They say a song can be a bridge, Ma. But I say it’s also the ground we stand on. And maybe we sing to keep ourselves from falling. Maybe we sing to keep ourselves.
“I wanted to cry but did not yet know how to in English. So I did nothing.”
“What is a country but a life sentence?”
“You’re not a monster,” I said. But I lied. What I really wanted to say was that a monster is not such a terrible thing to be.
“When I first started writing, I hated myself for being so uncertain, about images, clauses, ideas, even the pen or journal I used. Everything I wrote begin with maybe and perhaps and ended with I think or I believe. But my doubt is everywhere. Even when I know something to be true I fear the knowledge will dissolve, will not, despite my writing it, stay real.”