This post is also available in: العربية

Roger Tagholm


A debut novel by a Vietnamese American refugee has led to a flurry of international deals among literary publishers around the world.  On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is by Ocean Vuong, the award-winning author of the poetry collection Night Sky With Wounds who is assistant professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts.

The novel has been sold to Penguin Press in the US, Cape in the UK, Hanser in Germany, Gallimard in France and La Naveo Di Teseo in Italy, with offers from Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Spain and Sweden.  Arabic rights have not yet been sold.

The novel takes the form of a letter written by a son to his mother who cannot read, and echoes Vuong’s own early life experiences as a refugee.  Born in a rice farm outside Saigon in 1988, Vuong and his family moved to the US when he was two, after a year in a refugee camp.  He is the first in his immediate family to learn how to read proficiently.  While studying at Brooklyn College, he wrote the poems that would become the collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds which has won a raft of awards including the prestigious £25,000 TS Eliot Prize.  That collection has been translated into Hindi, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese, with individual poems appearing in Arabic, but not the whole collection.

According to his UK publisher, Jonathan Cape, Vuong’s novel examines “American identity through storytelling, class, love and violence, and how we can not only survive trauma but find new life and joy in its aftermath”.

Cape Associate Publisher Robin Roberson said: “His voice is quiet; so quiet, we physically lean in to listen more closely. And we learn quickly that this is a man whose words are worth close study, because each word is the product of experience and examination…The writing is, as many have remarked, searingly beautiful and very moving, but that is often because of the attention he gives to the things he describes.”

Vuong is represented by Frances Coady at the Aragi agency, with the novel expected to be published in the UK and US in spring or summer 2019.