Things We Lost to the Water
by Nguyen, Eric






"When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. As she and her boys begin to settle into life in America, she continues to send letters and tapes back to Cong, hopeful that they will be reunited and her children will grow up with a father. Over time, Huong realizes she will never see Cong again. While she copes with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh, grow up in their absent father's shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memory and imagination. As they push forward, the three adapt to life in America in different ways: Huong takes up with a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to connect with his heritage by joining a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, now going by Ben, embraces his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identity-as individuals and as a family-tears them apart, until disaster strikes and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them"-





ERIC NGUYEN has an MFA in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and is the Reviews Editor for diaCRITICS.org. He lives in Washington, DC.





*Starred Review* While the story arc might sound familiar-other-side-of-the-world refugees who endure challenging lives in the U.S.-Nguyen's gentle precision nevertheless produces an extraordinary debut with undeniable resonance. As the MFA-ed, prestigiously fellowshipped (Lambda, Tin House) editor in chief of diaCRITICS, Nguyen ciphers all that literary practice and training into creating a Vietnamese family, three-quarters of which arrive in New Orleans in 1978. Once upon a time, Huong was a village wife to teacher Công, mother to young Tu?n. Suddenly, all three are running for their lives, but only Huong and Tu?n board the boat, embarking on a path of everlasting separation. Huong carries within the unborn Binh, who later baptizes himself as Ben. Settling into a New Orleans East apartment, Huong continues to record cassette tapes for Công even after he inexplicably severs their familial bonds. Years pass before Huong finds supportive companionship with fellow refugee Vinh, and yet his constant presence remains a weighty reminder of Công's absence. Tu?n finds tenuous connections with a dangerous girl and a vicious gang; Ben seeks solace alone in a life of books, then on a journey abroad. Nearly three decades later, Hurricane Katrina will once again confront the trio with Things We Lost to the Water and the question of what can and should be salvaged from the devastation. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.





In this decades-spanning novel, a family of Vietnamese refugees makes a home in New Orleans. Huong, who's pregnant, arrives in New Orleans in 1978 disoriented and overwhelmed but clear on one thing: She must get in touch with Công, her husband, who was inexplicably left behind when she and their young son boarded the boat that carried them away from Vietnam and the encroaching Communist regime. As she, her son, and her new baby settle into the Versailles Arms, an apartment building on a polluted bayou populated entirely by Vietnamese refugees, she sends letter after letter to their old addresses in Vietnam and constantly replays the moment of their unexpected parting in her head. "How had Công's hand slipped? she kept asking herself. That was the only explanation. The only possible one." It's only when Công sends her a brief postcard back-"Please don't contact me again" is the jist of it-that denial gives way to grief and a steely resolve to protect her two sons, no matter what. Over the following years, the novel moves fluidly among each of the family members' perspectives: Tu?n, her elder son, grows from a boy gentle with animals to a teenager trying to prove his toughness to the members of a Vietnamese American gang called the Southern Boyz. B́nh-or Ben, as he insists on being called, never having known Vietnam-loves to read, slowly realizes that he's gay, and eventually embarks on a transoceanic voyage of his own. Huong begins dating a kind car salesman named Vinh, but all three family members are haunted by Công's absence. Huong tells the boys early on that their father is dead, a lie that plants the seeds for familial rupture later on. Debut author Nguyen movingly portrays the way adopted homes can become as cherished and familiar as ancestral ones (Huong on New Orleans: "She realized this had become her city, the place she lived but also a place that lived in her") but also the truth that new loves can never quite heal old wounds. Seeing her sons, so like their father, growing away from her, Huong thinks: "It's always like she's losing him again-to the world, to life, to fate." An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.






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