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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book-length letter of a 28-year-old gay Vietnamese American man to his mother. It is a letter she cannot read, but it doesn’t make it less important. Through impressionistic scenes, Little Dog, the novel’s narrator, builds not only a picture of the life he has with his mother but a landscape of love, memory, and ultimately history.
“People here,” he says, “still think Vietnam is a jungle—brown savages, an exotic Asian whore who you can’t possess, but still satisfies all your sexual demands. It’s burnt into the American imagination. You can’t change that.” In a quietly controlled book, it’s an unexpected moment of rage, where the author and her character lay bare the type of narrative she’s working against.