The beauty of a good book is that it makes everyone feel like they belong in their own way, right at home in a world scattered like leaves of potpourri. “I hope readers will approach the book, read it, and not necessarily take anything away from it, own nothing, but maybe just more of themselves. If they could see themselves more in the book… ” said Ocean Vuong, poet and author of On Earth, we are briefly beautiful.
Written in a disturbed, first-person narrative structure that uses an epistolary format, drawing heavily on a stream of consciousness, the book feels like a long poem that never ends. Should he? You will wonder again and again. Little Dog writes a letter to his mother, painfully aware of the impossibility of her ever being able to read it (she cannot read), this very impossibility which makes it even more possible for him to write. It’s true, I suppose, that sometimes it’s easy to yell when no one is listening.
For Little Dog, this long stretched letter is a way of talking, of settling things, like flattening out a crumpled old map, going over its lines to locate a house or maybe being a little less lost than before. The book traces Little Dog’s coming of age moment and his relationship (for lack of a better word) with his mother, grandmother, and Trevor, stuck in the crosshairs of too much desperation arguing for some salience.
The beauty of this book is that the harder you try to find a way out, the more you get sucked in, like quicksand pressing around your body, forcing you to wait patiently. As we flip through the pages, we find a suffocating intersection of tragedies.
A strange heaviness settles on our bodies as we move forward – a heaviness of race clinging to skin color, intergenerational trauma from wars and violence that reduce generations to breathing bodies, and people who s stick to the remains of a life left in them, however fine it may be. The book tells you in a way that despite everything, it is possible to live. To be magnificent – brief, but magnificent.
Vuong uses lush detail and related language in her sensory writing, making reading a delicately delightful task, as it should be. Its lyricism climbs from the banal description of a comma to the limitless specificities of the physical act of making love. “As if we were two people extracting a body and, in doing so, merging,” he wrote.
The story of Little Dog is a faithful reflection of the lives of immigrants and victims of a war-torn country, how they cling (despite the challenges of their new homes) to the threads of their culture, their names , their language, their food and everything that has a name, or worse without a name. Ocean Vuong is also painfully honest in pointing out that sometimes this preservation of identity loses immediacy and gives way to more urgent tasks, like living, breathing and waking up.
“Our mother tongue is then not a mother at all but an orphan,” writes Vuong somewhere, mourning the loss of Vietnamese, her mother’s language that never fully developed, the language that remains stuck somewhere behind. his teeth, too fragile to ever come out. , for foreign also be heard in a distant land called America.
But there is hope, as always. All is not lost until you say so, perhaps this is Ocean’s central message to readers. Losing or “losing”, in Vuong’s words, “could make more of us”. Vuong tells us through his prose style of poetry that even in loss there is redemption, a kind of beauty only if you know where to find it.
He tells us that it is possible, and perhaps desperately needed today more than ever, to pick up beauty from the ashes of an apocalyptic day, for only that will save our “today” that we continue to roast on the charred relics of “yesterday”. so that we all wake up tomorrow. Little Dog wants us to wake up tomorrow, today and whenever possible.
Featured image: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden / Unsplash