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Things We Lost to the Water: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 4 2021

4.2 out of 5 stars 380 ratings

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From the Publisher

Product description


One of President Obama's Favorite Books of the Year Winner of the Crook's Corner Book Prize for best debut novel set in the American South Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize • AChristian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year An Atlanta Journal Constitution Top 10 Southern Book of the Year A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year Named one of the “Fifteen Books to Watch for” by The New York Times

“Nguyen’s narrative strikes a very elusive balance: vast in scale and ambition, while luscious and inviting — enchanting, really — in its intimacy.”
—Bryan Washington,
The New York Times Book Review

“Eric Nguyen’s masterful debut novel
Things We Lost to the Water is a deeply engaging, heart-rending look at a family of Vietnamese refugees struggling to survive and how the choices they make as individuals have ripple effects on each other.”
—Suzanne Van Atten,
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Things We Lost to the Water introduces an exquisite new voice in author Eric Nguyen; his debut novel is a luminous, balletic portrayal of an immigrant Vietnamese family in the US . . . Nguyen navigates their multiple perspectives with dexterity and emotional clarity, aching but never maudlin. I loved every page."
—Arianna Rebolini,

“Powerfully written . . . This is a compelling and poignant debut novel . . . Achingly beautiful . . . A highly recommended read!”
—Helen Vernier,
San Francisco Book Review
“Nguyen traces the family’s struggles alongside fellow refugees, complicated friendships, dangerous street gangs and difficult first loves, but the story is more than a by-the-book bildungsroman. By shifting points of view throughout the novel, Nguyen . . . weaves the everyday challenges of growing up with the unique pressures of overcoming the traumas of war.”
—Christina Leo,
inRegister Magazine
Things We Lost to the Water, the first novel from Eric Nguyen, is exactly the kind of rare treasure that readers are going to feel lucky to have uncovered.”
—Steven Whitten,
The Anniston Star
“One book to take special note of this month:
Things We Lost to the Water,  Eric Nguyen’s debut novel. Nguyen’s story spans three decades and chronicles the lives of a Vietnamese refugee family who flee to the U.S. Things We Lost to the Water is a lustrous portrait of first and second-generation immigrant life in America — full of joy, sorrow, secrets, and deceits — and showcases one family’s desire to survive in life and with each other.”
—Jordan Snow,
Apartment Therapy

“I was captivated. The writing is absolutely gorgeous . . . The voice is strong and this is a powerful novel . . . Well worth a read. Really enjoyed.”
—Roxane Gay, via Goodreads

“This is an elemental book, of water, for sure, but also of other elements of life, including love and loss. Vietnamese people know all about these elements, coming from a country whose entire length is bordered by a sea, and from a history saturated with loss. Love is one element that has enabled their survival, but sometimes at a cost. Eric Nguyen’s powerful novel ripples and gleams with the unpredictable flow and surge of love, which, like water, can drown us or sustain us. From a war to a hurricane, from an ocean to a flood,
Things We Lost to the Water proves itself to be a novel that sustains us.” 
—Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of
The Sympathizer

“Exquisitely well-written,
Things We Lost to the Water is a tender, haunting story of loss, love, family and survival. A moving and powerful debut.”
—Charles Yu, National Book Award-winning author of
Interior Chinatown

Things We Lost to the Water is a novel full of tenderness and courage. The family at its center hums with love and strength, and their journey to and within New Orleans brings a fresh perspective to that most iconic city. Nguyen will broaden the reader's understanding of migration, perseverance, and what it means to be American. This is exactly the sort of novel we need right now.”
—Kawai Strong Washburn, author of
Sharks in the Time of Saviors
What a book! Eric Nguyen has written one of the best debut novels in years. In precise, exquisite sentences, Nguyen details the emotional lives of three family members over decades of struggle, survival, joy.
Things We Lost to the Water is a masterpiece, an arrival, an expression of love, from a beautiful and necessary new voice. 
—Matthew Salesses, author of
The Hundred-Year Flood

“A devastatingly beautiful debut novel of secrets, deceits, and survivals. An extraordinary tale of a mother and her two sons, torn apart by the storms of Vietnam, to be tested again by the hurricanes of New Orleans. The end has me weeping from joy, sorrow and hope. Eric Nguyen’s talent radiates via his urgent prose and his ability to sketch the fine line between loyalty and betrayal, between what brings us together and what breaks us apart.
Things We Lost to the Water is a powerful, stunning, and necessary read!”
—Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author of
The Mountains Sing

Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen not only uses water to great effect but the prose itself feels like water: clear, powerful, and life-giving. While reading we believe that being loved and being flawed are not incompatible, nor belonging and being estranged. Nguyen helps us understand that we can all float if we let go of having to swim the same way to the same rhythm—we will find our own level in our own time. This is a beautiful book!
—Nicola Griffith, author of

"Moving . . . Deft."
—May-lee Chai,
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“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.”
—Terry Hong,
Booklist (starred)

“Debut author Nguyen movingly portrays the way adopted homes can become as cherished and familiar as ancestral ones . . . but also the truth that new loves can never quite heal old wounds . . . An engrossing, prismatic portrait of first- and second-generation Vietnamese American life.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Nguyen’s captivating debut spans three decades to chronicle the lives of a Vietnamese refugee family . . . Nguyen keeps a keen eye on their struggles and triumphs, crafting an expansive portrayal of New Orleans’s Vietnamese community under the ever-present threat of flooding, and the novel builds to a haunting conclusion during Hurricane Katrina. Readers will find this gripping and illuminating.”
Publishers Weekly

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.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf (May 4 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593317955
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593317952
  • Item weight ‏ : ‎ 472 g
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 15.34 x 2.64 x 21.64 cm
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.2 out of 5 stars 380 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5
380 global ratings

Top reviews from Canada

Reviewed in Canada on September 1, 2021
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3.0 out of 5 stars Water, water everywhere
Reviewed in Canada 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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Reviewed in Canada on May 16, 2022
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Top reviews from other countries

Nisha Agrawal
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving story!
Reviewed in India on December 28, 2021
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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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12 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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7 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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2 people found this helpful
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J. C. Sandoval
4.0 out of 5 stars Water water everywhere
Reviewed in the United States on January 29, 2022
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