28 Apr / Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen [in Booklist]
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. As the MFA-ed, prestigiously fellowshipped (Lambda, Tin House) editor-in-chief of diaCRITICS, Nguyen ciphers all that literary practice and training into creating a Vietnamese family, three-quarters of which arrive in New Orleans in 1978.
Once upon a time, Hương was a village wife to teacher Công, mother to young Tuấn. Suddenly, all three are running for their lives, but only Hương and Tuấn board the boat, embarking on a path of everlasting separation. Hương carries within the unborn Binh, who later baptizes himself as Ben. Settling into a New Orleans East apartment, Hương continues to record cassette tapes for Công even after he inexplicably severs their familial bonds.
Years pass before Hương finds supportive companionship with fellow refugee Vinh, and yet his constant presence remains a weighty reminder of Công’s absence. Tuấn finds tenuous connections with a dangerous girl and a vicious gang; Ben seeks solace alone in a life of books, then on a journey abroad.
Nearly three decades later, Hurricane Katrina will once again confront the trio with “Things We Lost to the Water” and the question of what can and should be salvaged from the devastation.