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Things We Lost to the Water: A novel by [Eric Nguyen]
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Things We Lost to the Water: A novel Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 129 ratings

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

August 1979

New Orleans is at war. The long howl in the sky; what else can it mean?
Hương drops the dishes into the sink and grabs the baby before he starts crying. She begins running toward the door—but then remembers: this time, another son. She forgets his name temporarily, the howl is so loud. What’s important is to find him.
Is he under the bed? No, he is not under the bed. Is he hiding in the closet? No, he is not in the closet. Is he in the bathroom, then, behind the plastic curtains, sitting scared in the tub? He is not in the bathroom, behind the plastic curtains, sitting scared in the tub. And as she turns around he’s at the door, holding on to the frame, his eyes watering, his cheeks red.
“Mẹ,” he cries. Mom. The word reminds Hương of everything she needs to know. In the next moment she grabs his hand and pulls him toward her chest.
With this precious cargo, these two sons, she darts across the apartment, an arrow flying away from its bow, a bullet away from its gun. She’s racing toward the door and leaping down the steps—but she can’t move fast enough. The air is like water, it’s like run­ning through water. Through an ocean. She feels the wetness on her legs and the water rising. And the sky, the early evening sky, with its spotting of stars already, is streaked red and orange like a fire, like an explosion suspended midair in that moment before the crush, the shattering, the death she’s always imagined until some­one yells Stop, someone tells her to Stop.
And just like that, the sirens hush and the silence is violent: it slices, it cuts.
“Hurricane alarm,” Bà Giang says. The old woman drops her ciga­rette. “Just a hurricane alarm. A test. Nothing to be afraid of.” She reaches over and cups Hương’s cheek.
“What do you mean?” Hương asks.
“A test. They’re doing a test. In case something happens,” Bà Giang says. “Go home now, cưng ơi. Go home. Get some rest. It’s getting late.”
“Late.” Hương understands, or maybe she does not. A thousand thoughts are still settling in her mind. Where were the sounds from before? Not the alarm, but the grating calls of the grackles in the trees, the whistling breeze, a car speeding past—where are they now?
She notices Tuấn at the gates. Her eyes light up.
“Tuấn ơi,” she calls.
Tuấn holds on to the bars of the gate and watches three boys riding past on bicycles. One stands on his pedals. Another rides without hands but only for a second before grabbing—in a pan­icked motion—the handlebars. A younger one tries to keep up on training wheels. Three boys. Three brothers.
“Tuấn ơi,” Hương calls again.
Tuấn waves as the boys ride leisurely past. When they’re gone, he returns, and Hương feels a mixture of pure happiness, comfort, and relief.
Up the dirt road. A mother and her sons. Hand in hand.

--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

About the Author

ERIC NGUYEN earned an MFA in Creative Writing from McNeese State University in Louisiana. He has been awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary, Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA), and the Tin House Writers Workshop. He is the editor in chief of He lives in Washington, DC. Things We Lost to the Water is his first novel. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

From the Publisher

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08FZMQZ9F
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf (May 4 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 2807 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 285 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.2 out of 5 stars 129 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5
129 global ratings
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Top review from Canada

Reviewed in Canada on September 1, 2021
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3.0 out of 5 stars Water, water everywhere
By Katherine A Speeckaert on September 1, 2021
Much the way water moves and flows in a river so the water is always becoming new again, I worry that these characters will wash right out of my memory because they are kind of insubstantial. A bit like a shallow, muddy stream, I feel like they weren't fleshed-out enough for my taste.

The novel has a really interesting theme of what water takes away from the members of this family, and at the same time what the water brings.

It wasn't a bad book, I just felt a lot of emotional distance from the characters, like I didn't get a full enough picture of who they are. But the story was beautifully crafted and worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a non-linear, expectation defying masterpiece
Reviewed in the United States on June 21, 2021
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6 people found this helpful
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Laurence R. Bachmann
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and powerful stories of migration and assimilation
Reviewed in the United States on July 19, 2021
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2 people found this helpful
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Mark Gruber
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Book!
Reviewed in the United States on July 25, 2021
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Christine Liu
4.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written but feels unresolved
Reviewed in the United States on October 14, 2021
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Linda Buist
5.0 out of 5 stars In truth we see ourselves and each other
Reviewed in the United States on August 22, 2021
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