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This is an excellent book exploring immigration (especially refugee immigration), change, identity, and racism. Huong, Tuan, and Binh emerge as fully fledged characters who all occupy different spaces and places when it comes to navigating who they were, who they are, and who they must be. For Huong, she is the first-generation refugee immigrant struggling to come to terms with her new reality; for Tuan, he is old enough to know the war and come to America, and to struggle as a 1.5gen immigrant perpetually balancing who he is. As for Binh, Binh rejects much of his past--except for when he cannot, because he can never be white. These are all experiences known in the diaspora community, and the author manages them all with a deft and careful hand, as only someone with lived experience can. An absolute must-read for children of the Boat People!
For a first novel, Eric Nguyen sets the bar high for himself. What jumped out at me most as I began to read through this novel was how unpredictable it was. I was taken from a shoreline in Vietnam, to musty clubs in New Orleans, from rough youthful indiscretions, to mature reflections of kids who have seen too much for their age. The story line was at times difficult to follow, not because of the non-linear plot progression (hint *Pulp Fiction* hint) but because just when I thought I could venture a prediction on what would happen to one of the boys or their mother, I was almost always wrong! The book kept me glued throughout, and I read it in 2 sittings. With a plethora of social commentary, character development, and colorful imagery, it was engaging and imaginative throughout. Hope to see more of Eric in the future.
Eric Nguyen's first novel is wonderfully assured and original. Themes of loss and assimilation, cultural identity and Asian stereotypes are all explored, to great effect. Some are expanded upon; others turned upside down. Water is a leitmotif and narrative engine. At first, it separates and divides a family of Vietnamese boat people arriving in New Orleans in the late 70s without the family patriarch. While not present, he haunts most of the book. 25 years later Hurricane Katrina floods and overwhelms the same group, with water once again a threat and a catalyst.
The author's writing and plot development is quite sophisticated and assured. Each character seems authentic, the threesome familial but individual. No one experiences the same reality in the same way. The youngest son who arrives as an infant, unencumbered by memories of a homeland lost is most Americanized but ironically, the most alienated. His older brother struggles, literally and metaphorically straddling two cultures. Huong, their single mother, alone and with few resources, works to keep her family afloat. Things We Lost To Water is filled with experiences both memorable and painful--sometimes sorrowful, always worthwhile.
I just finished reading Things We Lost to the Water, and I am writing this review through well-earned tears. I am so glad that I happened upon an article about this book a couple of weeks ago, and that I followed my instincts and purchased it soon thereafter. This is that rare book that leaves you deeply enriched, and grateful for the privilege of reading it — it is that special. The storytelling of Eric Nguyen is nothing short of brilliant, rich in details of time and place; his characters are drawn with such depth and clarity that I came to truly know them and genuinely care about their well-being. I will read many books this summer, but I feel certain that none will move or impact me as deeply as Things We Lost to the Water. I recommend it with all my heart!
Huong's strength is rooted in her culture and her love for her husband and their 2 sons. Vihn is good to her and he loves Huong but he's more like Huong's Guardian angel because he didn't have her heart. For more than 15 years, Huong relived losing her husband after migrating to America. She regretted how much her boys' adjustment to their New Orleaan's home tore her Vietnamese culture apart as she struggled to raise them. Her boys behaved indifferently to her strict parenting and she often reminded them of how their father would disapprove. Despite the roads her sons chose as they ventured into phases of adulthood, this story explains the emotional, psychological and spiritual bond a son has with his biological father and, how socially inept and tormented a young boy becomes as he struggles to develop without his father. I LOVED THIS NOVEL👏🏾👏🏾❤