On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

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Memory. 

A twig to hang our old ages on, a current to charge our failed youth from; a blanket to hush our demons from the black, a spring to nourish our wounded dreams underneath. A whole. A hollow. And everything suspended in between is memory.

‘Ma. You once told me that memory is a choice. But if you were god, you’d know it’s a flood.’

And like a flood, Little Dog untethers me from my world and takes me to his’, where he writes a letter and recounts his life of 28 odd years to his Ma, who is illiterate. Does the secrecy of our identity embolden us to admit truths that we would otherwise have fought tooth and nail to negate? Perhaps. May be that’s why, in an infallibly raw and unfiltered tone, Little Dog talks about his early impressions of his grandma, Lan and his ma, Rose, that coincide with their immigration to America from Vietnam under the shelling quiver of Vietnam War. 

His letter glows with the holes in the armour of both the women’s defiance in the face of extremely trying circumstances and lowly professions because he proudly plasters his heart with their frailties and failures as it makes them human, and like him.

‘A fake. A fraud. Which was why I loved it.’

His letter trembles with the bittersweet sensation of making love the first time at an age where his gay identity was as much a stranger to him as it was to the world outside, and the rude realization that even under wraps, Love was a prisoner of societal rules.

‘I got what I wanted—a boy swimming toward me. Except I was no shore, Ma. I was driftwood trying to remember what I had broken from to get here.’

His letter forgives the unspoken words of his grandfather and the truant tendencies of his ma. His letter accommodates the big questions of life hovering on dignity, fairness and humanity, without losing sight of the small joys of a flight of monarchs and content sleep of his ma after her son’s kneading. His letter brushes the roots of Saigon and the skies of Connecticut. His letter turns resplendent under the powerful lamp of story-telling, the kind that undulates on the elated and visceral veins of family, friendship, love and life.

‘Do you remember the happiest day of your life? What about the saddest? Do you ever wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling, not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn’t have to live on one side or the other?’

Air.

An invisible shield that keeps us breathing. An indefinable nothingness that is necessary. Sometimes, the bearer of freedom and sometimes, the pall of gloom. But every time, there. Always. Inevitable. Urgent. And like air is this book.

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[Image courtesy npr.org]

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