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Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen
Historical fiction

Things We Lost to the Water


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


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Immigration



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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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (7,172)

  • Andie T.

    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.

  • Anne L.

    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.

  • Brittany O.

    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.

  • Eun K.


    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

  • Rebecca S.

    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!