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All booksHistorical fictionThings We Lost to the Water
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
Historical fiction

Things We Lost to the Water

Debut
We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Eric Nguyen, on your first book!

by Eric Nguyen

Quick take

A moving multigenerational saga about one family's attempts to weather the storms confronting them in an adopted home.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Immigration

    Immigration

Why I love it

Megha Majumdar
Author, A Burning

I’ve just turned the last page of this remarkable novel and am sitting with a feeling of awe. How did Eric Nguyen do it?

This is an epic yet intimate saga following, over decades, a Vietnamese family who flee their homeland and resettle in New Orleans. They arrive bearing a deep wound—they were forced to leave behind their husband/father in Saigon. The brothers at the heart of this book, Tuan and Binh, find different paths forward—one joining a gang and the other turning to literature. But it is the story of their mother Huong that made me ache most. Full of hope, she sends cassette tapes to Vietnam hoping they will reach her husband.

I marvel at the richness of this world, from Vietnam to New Orleans to France, each individual from an elderly babysitter to a car salesman so distinct. With gentleness and care, this book takes on huge questions. How long does it take for a place to become home? How do we make our own choices while remaining close to family? How do we live with the secrets and betrayals of our loved ones? This reminded me of Patricia Engel’s Infinite Country, and left me, in the end, with a feeling of having known one family’s enduring love.

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Synopsis

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.

But with time, Huong realizes she will never see her husband 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 adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identity—as individuals and as a family—threatens to tear them apart. But then disaster strikes the city they now call home, and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.

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Preview

Member thoughts

All (4355)
All (4355)
Love (1346)
Like (2468)
Dislike (541)
4435 ratings
  • 30% Love
  • 56% Like
  • 12% Dislike
  • Joliet, IL

    A moving story about love, loss, and life. It’s full of water symbolism, has multiple viewpoints, and spans decades. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, but is character-driven & not action-packed fyi.

  • Justice, IL

    Eric Nguyen’s first novel is phenomenal! He put so much research into this book. I learned a lot about Vietnamese history and New Orleans. Captivating characters and storyline. And a good ending too.

  • Portsmouth, VA

    I really enjoyed this one, both for the story and the writing style. Each family member is both frustrating and sympathetic in turn as they grow together and apart and deal with the father’s absence.

  • CASTRO VALLEY, CA

    Read almost like a memoir, so vivid and engrossing. Took a little bit to settle into the story and then it was over so fast - wanted more! Reminded me of The Leavers & On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

  • Armonk, NY

    Wow. This book was absolutely incredible and opened my eyes to a whole part of history that I haven’t yet explored. The writing was beautiful and I can’t wait to see more of that this author does!

  • Charleston, SC

    Wow. This book is incredibly moving and powerful. We follow a Vietnamese family moving to New Orleans in the 70's and I learned so much from their story. I will be thinking about this book for a while

  • Chicago, IL

    An absolutely beautifully written story about a family who escapes Vietnam for America and a safer life A beautiful coming of age story and of the hardship, heartache of creating a home in a new land.

  • Maple Valley, WA

    I read a lot of books about refugees for my job, and this avoided all the usual tropes. GREAT well-rounded characters that aren't perfect and have diverse motivations and perspectives, a page-turner.

  • Allen, TX

    Wow. What an amazing debut for this author. I am so glad I selected it as my book of the month. The ties to water were quite amazing and interesting - it gives life it takes life. What matters most?

  • Marne, MI

    This was a very special book. I really enjoyed the theme of familial bonds, what it means to be an immigrant in our country, and generational trauma. Definitely a slow burner but well worth it.

  • Cedar Falls, IA

    I really enjoyed this family story and had empathy for the mother as she forged ahead without her partner. She did her best and this is a great novel to highlight the tough road of immigration.

  • Little Rock, AR

    My first book from a Vietnamese author. What a beautiful and intimate story. Each character was flawed, but their emotional journeys were touching. This one will stick with me for a long time.

  • Huntsville, AL

    A beautifully written story weaving together family, generational changes, the experience of refugees in America, and the struggle to find home in a place or with people. Full of life and love.

  • Whittier , CA

    This is one of my favorite reads of the year. I felt like I really got to know every single one of the characters. New Orleans was interwoven seamlessly and beautifully into the narrative.

  • Laramie, WY

    The middle is slow (teenagers being teenagers can be hard to read), but the story arc is interesting, sad and sweet. The family as an entity is as rich a characters as the people themselves

  • Baton Rouge, LA

    This was more literary fiction than historical. I loved seeing the city in which I was raised through the eyes of an immigrant. This book opened me up to a culture I know very little about.

  • Tucson, AZ

    This is such a beautifully written and compelling story with an ending that stays with you. The kind of debut novel that makes me feel excited to see what else is to come from the author.

  • Red Bank, NJ

    Hope and despair, courage and fear, love and anger, prejudice and respect—the immigrant experience comes alive in this novel, depicting struggles that are so diverse depending upon age.

  • Buffalo, NY

    This is the first time I've read a book from this service, but it was excellent. I look forward to taking more chances if anything else lives up to the standard set by Nguyen's writing.

  • Seattle, WA

    While I wish there was more content at the end (I needed 100 more pages!!) this was a stunning and deeply moving novel. Water is at once life changing and life ending. So so beautiful.

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