Cover Image: Swimming Back to Trout River

Swimming Back to Trout River

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"Swimming Back to Trout River" is an interesting and layered story about how various characters dealt with events and circumstances that happened to them, both in China, and later, the United States.  Sometimes people we meet by happenstance end up having the largest impact on our lives, and this is certainly true in this book.  Family, marriage, parenting special needs children, loss, and grief are covered in this book, and each character deals with these things in their own way. Music, and how it can be interpreted in unique ways through the violin, is an integral part of the story and binds the characters together.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this book. #NetGalley #SwimmingBacktoTroutRiver
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Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng is a beautifully written story about three generations who have all been affected by the Chinese Cultural Revolution in some way.  I loved the themes in this story: disability, loss, grief, immigration, and I loved how music becomes a character in the book.

The story is told from four different perspectives and moves back and forth in time, Junie is a young girl who is living with her grandparents while her parents try to make a way for themselves in America, before sending for her to join them.  Momo, Junie’s father who loves music.  Cassia, Junie’s mother and Dawn, a friend of Momo’s.  

The story is quite tragic and yet, the author writes in a way that allows you to understand the characters and their connections to each other, the influences of Chinese culture and the time, and what people will do to survive.
Ultimately I think the story is about the sacrifices and decisions we make in life.  They are not always easy and things do not always turn out the way we hope or think they will and we live with those consequences.

This is a  powerful debut.  I was so glad that it was longlisted for the Giller Prize.  Sad it wasn’t shortlisted, but very much looking forward to reading more from Linda Rui Feng.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for a free copy for review.
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A beautiful story about what it means to belong. This story is very unique and deals with the downsides that come with trying to build a new life and what that means across generations. Well written and would highly recommend!
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I feel lucky to have read an advance copy of Swimming Back to Trout River, the author’s debut novel. I will be watching out for more from Linda Rui Feng. She knows how to create authentic, endearing characters. 
This is supposed to be the story of Junie, but it’s really the story of her parents and the sacrifices and heartbreaks they faced growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and how it shaped them, and ultimately how it will shape Junie’s future.
I read this novel compulsively. The story moves from rural China to San Francisco, back and forth in time, with four point of view characters. At every point, I was immersed in the lives of the characters. How would the turning points in each of their lives end up connecting them to each other? I did feel it ended somewhat abruptly, but maybe I just didn’t want to say goodbye to these characters.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this book.
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Swimming Back to Trout River is a beautiful book. Linda Rui Feng interweaves the chapters, changing characters and settings, like a masterful composer. The story opens with Junie, a young girl born without lower legs, on a train with her mother. Cassia is taking Junie to live with her paternal grandparents in Trout River, a village in China. Junie's father lives in the US, and the family is about to fragment more as Cassia is about to leave her daughter. It's a sad scenario, but Junie finds happiness with her grandparents and in the rural setting. This is one of the plot threads, and it serves as the heart around which Feng develops different timelines looking at the lives of Cassia; Momo, Junie's father; and Dawn, a violinist Momo knew in his youth. 

Music is a central element in the story, and I wish I knew more about technical composition so that I could use musical terms to describe what Feng has done. It feels like there are good comparisons to be made there as each character hits different notes and Feng fades them in and out like different sections of an orchestra, building into a crescendo both the beauty and sadness of life. 

This book was surprising and lovely, and I'm so glad that I read it.

Thank you to both NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng 

A beautifully written story poetically exploring many themes including family, heritage, immigration, music, and love. Impacts both immediate and lasting of the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1960s & 70s on the characters are shown. Differing experiences with moving from China to the US are explored. On the surface, the story is about a family - daughter Junie, parents Cassia & Momo who are both now in the US. Momo wants nothing more than to reunite his family in time for his daughter’s 12th birthday, but Junie has been raised largely by her grandparents in China and has no desire to leave her home. 

There are some books I’ve read that sort of leave me feeling a bit discombobulated and a distinct lack of elegance in the face of so much imagery, lyricism and meaning. This is one of those books. It’s a debut novel, although the author is a published U of T professor; it’s so well done, it’s the kind of book that keeps me seeking out debuts. 

The story mostly focuses on parents Momo and Cassia; we go from present and back to their origin story as a couple, and their upbringing. There isn’t as much Junie as I was hoping for. We are given the skeleton of her story and sort of piece it together. There is also a surprising twist to the end that felt.. disjointed. These are minor notes from a humble reader; the book is a work of art! 

For fans of literary fiction with a historical component, rich character studies and slower-paced thoughtful writing with no wasted words - a must read new release. 

Thank you so much to Simon & Schuster Canada and to Netgalley for free access to an e-copy of this wonderful book. It’s out now! All opinions are my own.
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️➕

This book took my breath away. Literally. Towards the very end of the story, I became aware that I was holding my breath, allowing in only tight short intakes, afraid to disturb the rhythm of the space I had dropped into, not wanting it to ever end. 

This is not a book to coast through. It asks to be read slowly; to appreciate the nuance, the context, the care that has gone into its crafting. This is a book of such insight and beauty that I will want to read it again, later, after I’ve felt the edges mellow a little and want to bring it all back into focus. 

The story follows a set of remarkable characters; understated, quiet, characters; each of them “part of something ancient, but also very new at the same time”, with lives that are in some sense just beginning, as the story picks us up and takes us through their intersecting narratives crossing over in and around the eighties in revolutionary China. 

Momo is a student, an engineer, a believer in science and his place in the new world. Burning with “electrified impatience”, he can’t wait “for time to pass, so that in his life, there would be less yearning and more having, less becoming and more being”.  

Dawn is a violinist - brash, confident and passionate about music and its profound and intimate capacity to take us inside it, to inspire, to articulate and to make our lives “larger”.

Cassia is a nurse, an emotionally-closed enigma - the hardest of the three protagonists for the reader to understand, it will take time for us to get to know, to experience, Cassia’s story, which is in many ways the most heartbreakingly primal of all. 

The story dips and weaves in ways that are impossible to summarize with any sort of justice, so skillfully does the author introduce and then cycle back to the themes,  intricately braiding the story, like ribbons, right up to the wondrous and profoundly inspiring ending. 

“Love is a wound that closes and opens, all our lives”

How does one live (hope) though grief. Loss. Surrender. Fear. Disability. 

What control do we have over our lives? Are we fated, destined or really just experiencing a series of happy accidents? 

How profound is it that age and experience in each of us unfurls nostalgia,  even for aspects of our not-so-comfortable pasts, as long as it is lived through the echoes of our “youthful certainty”. 

And finally, the author suggests, “if not a normal life, then why not a spectacular life?”
 
What exactly that means, for each of us, may be the most interesting question of all. 

A great big thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for an advance review copy of this stunning and magnificent novel. All thoughts presented are my own.
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This novel examines both how people are tethered by “the most ethereal of tendrils” to each other “in ways large or small, for a few minutes or for decades” and how individuals are insignificant in “the makings and transmutations of the world.”  Characters are brought together, tethered, at certain times, while also profoundly affected by social and political events “indifferent to human pain.”

Momo grows up in rural China in the village of Trout River.  He gains entrance to university where he meets Dawn, a budding violinist, who introduces him to classical music.  They lose touch after graduation when they are sent to work in different parts of the country.  Momo meets Cassia, a nurse, and the two marry and have a daughter Junie who is born without lower limbs.  Momo leaves for graduate school in the U.S., with plans that Cassia and Junie will eventually join him.  But Junie who has been raised by her paternal grandparents in Trout River doesn’t want to leave, and Cassia who has suffered several tragedies, does not see her future as Momo does.

The novel is narrated from the perspective of these four characters.  We see Momo’s life:  his university years, his marriage, and his adjustment to life in the U.S.  We see Dawn’s early years living with her grandfather, her love of music, and her pursuit of a career as a violinist.  We see Cassia’s meeting with Momo, her marriage, and her struggles with motherhood because of trauma from her past.  And we see Junie’s life with her grandparents who work to expand her world despite her physical limitations.

Momo, Dawn, and Cassia are all affected by China’s Cultural Revolution.  For years, Dawn cannot pursue a career as a violinist because even listening to Western music is a political crime:  “her ambition was the wrong tonality and color for the world.”  Both Momo and Cassia witness purges that affect them.    In essence, each of these must sacrifice dreams because of societal transformations happening around them.  

Each of the characters is well developed; their motivations are made clear so their actions are understandable.  What means the most to Momo is “to offer up his service to people ready to slaughter their donkey to send off a university student from their village.”  Dawn “’can’t bear to be alive without [music].’”  Cassia is emotionally scarred and is unable to move on; she knows that “Even a dull child . . . would have sensed her afflictions from the past and sussed out her ever-present presentiment of loss.”

The adults are all on journeys towards healing from loss and transforming into new lives.  Dawn takes drastic steps to pursue her career.  Cassia makes a momentous decision on her way to join her husband.  Momo works at bringing together his family which necessitates repairing his fractured relationship with Cassia.  The ending of the novel, though tinged with more tragedy, is hopeful as two people are tethered.

People may suffer in the face of a repressive regime indifferent to human suffering but people can also find what they need in a connection, however brief, with another person.  Just as Cassia as a child gives a stranger comfort without knowing it, Dawn meets people who made her career possible:  “’I washed up on these shores like a beached whale, and all of you . . . helped me grow my first pair of feet, and then helped me learn to stand on them.’”  Momo writes letters to a young violinist so two people meet “’By accident, or almost accident’” and “two commingled notes began to sound sweeter every second.”

I appreciated the author’s approach to explaining the Cultural Revolution.  She is not heavy-handed; instead, she inserts statements that say much in few words:  during this time, “gossip [led] to conjectures, which became accusations and verdicts over time; information that could be bartered for favors, exemptions, tokens of power.”  One man knows that “his own peasant pedigree was unassailable, and he knew that by marrying into his family, she’d be elevated from the class of intelligentsia suspected of unsavory, unrevolutionary activities.”  When a woman lowers her head to think, a young child interprets the gesture as sadness because “in a world where nothing was left standing, every gesture that involved turning the face away was interpreted as grief.”

As I was reading this book, I was often reminded of some similarities with Madeleine Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing which focuses on a pianist, a composer, and a violinist studying music at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/2016/10/review-of-do-not-say-we-have-nothing-by.html).   

Swimming Back to Trout River is a beautifully written novel filled with tragedy, but it still manages to highlight human resilience.
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Beautiful writing is at the heart of this story of a family. The family is not together when we first meet them; young Junie lives with her grandparents at Trout River, Momo is in the US at a university, while Cassia is in Beijing, and seems somewhat disengaged with her life.
We also meet Dawn, who was involved with Momo before he met Cassia.
The events of the Cultural Revolution have a deep impact on their lives, sending them in different directions over the years, and it’s music, played on a violin, that connects them all together. 
The author takes us through the lives of these four people, showing us they dealt with loss. I was left with a sense of  loneliness and longing, heartbreak and joy by the end of this affecting book.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for this ARC.
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This book is not what I was expecting. I had thought this was more of a story about Junie and her move to America, I wasn’t expecting so much back story and history about her parents. I haven’t read many books set in China so this was wonderful to learn some history of this time period. I thought it was beautifully written and a wonderful story.
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Feng was born in China, has lived in the USA and is now a professor at the University of Toronto. This is her debut novel. The story starts in China during the years of the cultural revolution (1966-1976) and also is also set in the  eighties in the USA.  We meet Junie, a young girl born without the lower part of her legs. Her parents, Cassia and Momo want only the best for her. In the eighties Momo has moved to the USA  to pursue a doctorate in engineering, with the goal of reuniting his family there eventually. We also meet Dawn, who is a talented violinist and was a childhood friend of Momo and introduced him to the love of music. The book moves back and forth through time as we learn the characters stories.  It explores family, love, music, and immigration.  It is a lovely recommendation for fans of literary fiction.
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I have read quite a few books about the Asian immigrant story, but very few that intertwined love, family, trauma with the immigrant story so well. These themes along with the beautiful was what made Swimming Back to Trout River such a treat to read. It was a little slow to start but towards the middle, we got to learn more about the characters and the tragedies they each had to face, making the story more captivating. The characters were immigrants but were not portrayed as they typical one dimensional immigrants. What I mean is that their personalities were not just about struggling to learn English and being bullied by white folks. They had more to their lives, they had personal aspirations and internal conflicts that were not just related to being immigrants. There are a lot of connections between the characters and storylines throughout the book that aren’t always apparent at first. These connections did not feel forced or awkward and instead added to the depth and themes of the novel.
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Terrific book, very well written..  Sadness,  Parents  Momo and Cassia suffer incredible pain during their marriage and make choices that haunt them.   The author does an excellent job of the readier immersing oneself into the lives of the family. 
Highly recommend adding to your  reading list.
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This novel was a poignant story that will stick with you. The writing was beautiful. I loved learning historical elements of Cultural Revolution that I knew nothing about. Swimming Back to Trout River was a slow burn, but I felt at the end it was a bit rushed and abrupt. This novel was tragic and it seemed like the characters could not catch a break, so to speak. The characters keep their pains and tragedies to themselves and it did not seem to have much resolution in the storylines. I could see this novel having a sequel for that reason alone.

I would recommend this novel if you love historical fiction, gorgeous writing, and don't mind reading books that are not uplifting. I would give this novel a 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you to the author Linda Rui Feng, the publisher, and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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A truly good story about love, loss, and perseverance, and the way the universe has a perverse way of giving us what we want. 

Truly loved this book and will definitely be recommending.
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A really beautiful book that brought me comfort during these past few weeks when anti-Asian sentiment is high. This is a wonderful novel that evokes compassion for immigrants and their experiences, and families and their struggles. It makes readers question, "what is home?" and follows the characters through their understandings of this question. 
The novel and chapters are written from the perspectives of four characters: Momo, Cassia, Dawn, and Junie. Momo and Cassia are a young married couple in China who later emigrate to the U.S. Dawn is the university friend of Momo who ignited his love for classical music. While they never stayed in touch, Dawn also moves to the U.S. and becomes a famous music composer. Junie is Momo and Cassia's daughter who is left in China to be cared for by her grandparents until her parents are able to bring her to the U.S. 
There were a lot of elements of this book that I loved as they were introduced but I think fell short in some ways. For the short length of the book, I think it told a number of stories about each character that hovered near each other but never quite touched. The plot felt more centered on the adults than Junie so I felt that her perspective was lacking where I wanted more. Junie is a disabled young girl who is left to be raised her grandparents at a young age and promised to be reunited with her parents in America by the age of 12. The emotions of her parents surrounding her disability are mentioned, but her feelings are rarely talked about aside from her hesitation to move to America. 
I really loved Feng's writing style and I thought her descriptions of music were beautiful, especially the explanations of Chinese words that cannot be translated in English. I also think she captured the culture of harbouring feelings that is common in Chinese and Asian cultures and families really well.
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Set during and after China's Cultural Revolution, SWIMMING BACK TO TROUT RIVER tells the story of two parents who struggle to move past the meaningful events and relationships from that particular moment in time. For a family saga, the characters in this novel don't spend much time together! First, we have Momo, the family patriarch who has moved to America to pursue post-graduate studies. His estranged wife, Cassia, is in San Francisco, while their daughter, Junie, lives with her grandparents in Momo's hometown of Trout River in China. The premise of the novel rests on Momo's desire to reunite his family, but it's really an opportunity for the reader to understand why the family is split up in the first place, as well as to explore how Momo and Cassia's experiences during the Cultural Revolution continue to have a lasting impact on them decades later. Linda Rui Feng intricately weaves together the various storylines in a masterful and poetic way, and I enjoyed seeing how different characters crossed paths and came together. This was far from my favourite read of the year, but it was definitely an interesting book and I found Feng's writing intriguing; there was something about it that made me want to keep reading.
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a strong 4.75 stars!
A beautiful story that reads like a melody, a connection of vibrant and subdued notes that connect the characters into one big, but quiet life.
Momo, Cassia, Junie, Dawn, grandparents and side characters support each other, frighten each other and make changes to each other. The backdrop of China's cultural revolution disarms the reader to the temporal behaviours we share which can influence and shake your personal ride down the river of life.
So many phrases and descriptions that I needed to re-read and hold close because of their beauty and deep emotion. A story that offers the blend of Chinese culture and influence and American expectation that is painful to witness at times but always worthwhile.
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<i>Swimming Back to Trout River</i> it is a realistic fiction about the compromises, difficulties and struggles of starting over that immigrants face.  The protagonists Junie, Momo, Cassia and Dawn are all the inter-twined in their struggle to cope with the Chinese cultural revolution and its subsequent impact on their lives. <i>Swimming Back to Trout River</i> is at the debut novel of the poet and short story writer Linda Rui Feng.

The book opens with Junie going to live with her grandparents and then receiving a letter from her father saying that he's going to return to China and come for her when she's 12 years old.  Junie is upset because she really has grown to love her life in Trout River and she hopes she can stay there forever.   She writes her father a letter.  In the meantime, her father has gone to the US to find a future so that he can reunite his wife and his daughter.  His wife Cassia does come to North America but decides to live on her own.  With Junie’s letter and his wife missing, Momo’s wish to reunite his family is in jeopardy.  He decides to take action.
 
Feng does a beautiful job of writing this story.  The story is fundamentally sad.  The author does a beautiful job of helping you understand it has to be this way.  It is a relatively slow moving a novel where one keeps expecting things to happen.  However, it is the description of the characters that controls the overall intensity of the story.  The emotional intensity is beyond compare and the author is incredible at using the characters for making the overall story beautiful.  One example of this is how subtly, and with the simplest act, Momo’s friend Dawn becomes integral to completing the story.  Without spoiling the story, one can only understand this by reading the book.

Culturally it is fascinating and revealing to see how the Chinese revolution has impacted people’s lives and how it has influenced the art and culture of the Chinese people.  It is no wonder that it takes the characters in this story so long to recover from its impacts. 

I recommend this story to people who love a story about human nature and how environmental influences can change their lives.   I give the story 4 on 5.  I want thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a digital copy of this novel.  I give this honest review voluntarily.
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The strength of this novel in its storytelling.  I suspect to will appeal to a wide audience, as it is a celebration of facing adversity and the connections that bring people together and tear them apart.  These themes certainly resonated with me and while I did not see the ending coming,  I found I was definitely invested in what happened next.
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