Cover Image: Things We Lost to the Water

Things We Lost to the Water

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Member Reviews

things we lost to the water absorbed me through a single day of reading, and the world that eric nguyen occupies is rich and full of potential. some details are so hyerspecific that they feel like family stories, like the parents’ trip to da lat or their home in my tho, the viet gangs tuan grows up in and the overwhelming catholic contingency in NOLA. the choice to switch between perspectives of mother and two sons is great, too — so often we miss out on refugee parents’ inner worlds in second generation stories. small moments like huong driving an hour south to get long an from a filipino lady capture the loneliness and unexpected joy of life after resettlement. 
all that said, i think i missed out personally on the potential for each character’s arc to be more complex, and to get us a bit further than the grief of war and resettlement. i wish huong had more opportunities to be funny and joyous, not just a long-suffering mother, and that her partner vinh had more of a defined personality. binh/ben disappointed me too, as the second generation kid turned queer literary bro who excommunicates from his family and dates some white communist in paris  (not sure what this meant). while i understood that brand of resentment, i’m a little tired of it personally , and i wish we’d been offered more of a resolution.
the ending of this book reminds me a lot of jesmyn ward’s salvage the bones, which hurtles you forward into the rush of the hurricane and forces each character to decide who exactly they are. but it’s hard to do that when each character’s arc felt slightly incomplete, and they kind of wander around unfulfilled and grieving. my critique of things we lost to the water is more a matter of personal taste than craft. but when you love your characters like you love your people, you can imagine more for them than what this life might provide.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Things We Lost to the Water.
While I read the book over the course of a couple of days, I had to sit with it for a little while before reviewing it.
I still cannot decide if I liked it or not. I ended up giving it a 3 star middle of the row rating. 
What I liked were the prose and the characters, and I truly cared for them, wanted to get to know them better. What I didn't like were the time jumps that kept us from really witnessing the character growth. We are being told how they were now, but we weren't shown how they got there. Overall I found the pacing to be off. Sometimes the author spent an excessive amount of time setting up a scene and describing everything in detail (maybe even too much), then suddenly we jump several years into the future as if time doesn't really matter at all. If this was an intentional plot element, then the function of it was not clear to me. 
Overall I found the story intriguing enough to finish, and there we plenty of topics that would make interesting discussion points in a school setting or book club.
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Considering this is debut work, I appreciate the author’s effort to highlight the post-American War struggles Vietnamese-Americans went through. But the narrative didn’t do it justice for me. All three main characters felt one-dimensional, each having seemingly only one personality trait to cling onto and to revolve their character around, therefore they lack depth. They didn’t have their own coherent plotlines to follow either, the events were just very random and didn’t significantly affect their personalities. So without a decent storyline and any rather well-built characters, I was left to be disappointed.

I don’t have issues with the author’s English writing, but his usage of foreign words and phrases kinda pissed me off. So many of these Vietnamese words felt redundant and unnecessary. They didn’t show any meaningful cultural details but many were just there for being Vietnamese words. The same goes for the French phrases. If it wasn’t for me having a decent enough knowledge of all these three languages, I would have DNF-ed it a long time ago. And most of them never came with an explanation or translation! If Eric Nguyen meant this fictional experience to be shared and to be empathized by other readers, he should’ve made it more accessible to them. 

In conclusion, this was a very flawed book. But debut works usually have flaws. And I believe in Eric Nguyen to show improvement in his next projects.
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initial thoughts: the writing of this debut novel is beautiful. it’s heartbreaking, real, raw, and honest. reading this novel felt like a real glimpse into what life as an immigrant is like in America, however, there was one major element missing for me: emotional connection with the characters. 

the pacing of the novel had huge chunks of time missing. personally, this made it hard for me to really connect to the characters. I wanted to see more of Ben & Tuãn growing up, and more of the lives they created. I wanted to see more of how they overcame their struggles and built their life in America - and after the major ending event of the book. 

overall, a beautiful debut by a very talented author. I’ll definitely be checking out Eric’s future work. 

**a huge thank you to NetGalley & Penguin Randomhouse for the ARC.**
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I’m judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

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?-4
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This book was about the search for identity in a foreign land, it’s a story about loss and moving on, it’s about the Vietnamese Immigration experience told during the time of the Vietnam war, it’s about complicated relationships between a mother and her sons in a foreign land, and ultimately, about trying to stay connected to one another when circumstances in life threatens to push your family apart. It was a beautiful book.

I loved all of the challenges that we were presented with in this book. The story of why the father remained in Vietnam, the migration from Vietnam to America with two young sons, the adjustments to this new and strange environment, the growing pains as the sons go from young boys to young men. There were so many interesting challenges and themes going around this book which really fed into your hunger for a good storyline. I loved how realistic the challenges were as well. The family’s search for identity in their new environments, finding ways to somehow stay a family but also being pulled apart by different circumstances. I think a lot of immigrant parents would be able to relate to this book a lot, and 1st generation children as well! I really loved it. I have the say the water plays a big role in this book as it does in real life too. People being separated by the sea and distance. It was beautifully told. 

Thank you to Knopf publishers for sending me an ARC.
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I think this is one of the best books I habe read this year.  A refugee family from Vietnam navigates the culture of New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina strikes and what really matters is family.
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Big thanks to Knopf for granting me a review copy of this book via NetGalley! It was beautiful. I really liked it.

Things We Lost to the Water follows three characters: Huong, who fled Vietnam during the war and came to New Orleans, and her two sons, Tuan and Binh (Ben). We follow their lives over the course of years, from right after Huong arrived in 1978 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Looming behind everything is Huong’s husband and the boys’ father (or perhaps the idea of him), who was supposed to join them in the US. What follows is a story of heartbreak, growth, hope, memory, family, coming of age, and home.

There’s no denying that Eric Nguyen is an excellent, beautiful writer. There were two chapters in particular — one about halfway through and the other at the very end — that took my breath away. They spin around and around, dizzying, suspenseful, and rich with emotion. And the characters in this novel are gorgeous, full and endearing; you root for all of them. I did enjoy the first half of the book better than the second half (which jumps forward in time much more quickly), but the ending chapter was more than worth it. I’ll be watching for what Nguyen writes next, for sure.
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Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen was a bit of a disappointing book for me. 
I'm very that I ended up not loving this book because I really wanted to. 
One of the things that frustrated me is that there's so much telling in this novel. Also, the time jump is jarring, and I feel like we're missing so much. For example, I remember reading a chapter where Tuan was being bullied as a child. The next time we see him, he's 18 years old, trying to join a Vietnamese gang. I was shocked and confused because so much time has passed. Lastly, all of the characters change so much, but we don't get to see them grow throughout the book. Instead, we see them in different aspects of their lives, and it just feels weird. 
I am really sorry to say it, but this is one of the most disappointing books of the year for me.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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It can be difficult to capture the city in its entirety. In Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyens debut novel, he explores the citys history through multiple layers of lore. In this book, Nguyens introduces us to a family of four that quickly becomes three. Shes a woman who escaped a violent city and brought her sons with her. Each of them has left one home to search for another. For Huong, who has a new lover, and for Tun, who is getting involved with a local gang, the homelessness seems to have its own unique characteristics.

Early on in his novel, Nguyen notes that the water in New Orleans behaved differently than in Vietnam. It stayed still, though it moved. As he guides us through the years, he lets us wind our own clocks. The narrative shifts as the years go by, and the characters conflicts become more complex. Nguyens ability to weave these elements together is especially impressive. The mystery of home continues to be explored. Through multiple perspectives, Nguyens work makes it easier to understand the various facets of belonging.

This book is about moving on, it’s about moving on despite the loss of a loved one. NGuyens ability to chart the course of a journey without being too technical is something that makes it all the more compelling. Thank you, Knopf, for the gifted copy via net galley.
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Huong immigrates from Vietnam to New Orleans with her two young sons, Tuan and Binh, in 1978. She is without her husband, homeless, and trying to build a new life. As she adapts to life in America, her sons also search for how they fit in. Told through multiple perspectives over several decades, Nguyen crafts an intricate story about family and identity. Readers get to see Tuan fall into a bad relationship and associate with gang members, and they see how Binh, or Ben as he prefers to be called, face his own sexuality. There is imagery of water throughout the novel as the family immigrates by boat, they live on a bayou, Ben meets his first love at a pool, and eventually the family faces Hurricane Katrina. Readers who enjoy family drama will appreciate following this family through their stuggles.
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I did not realize this was a debut novel until I after I had read it!!  Wow -- I cannot wait to see what his next book will be!!  I loved his first chapter and I find with debut authors -- they struggle with finding a first chapter that will entice you to keep reading.  No worries with Eric's first book -- his first chapter had you not only turning the page, but excitedly so.  I always love reading historical fiction books which are totally original.  If you are looking for a historical fiction book that will keep you hooked til the end -- this one is for you!!
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Things We Lost to the Water follows the story of a mother and two sons that escape from communist Vietnam to New Orleans. Spanning a few decades it shares the story of a family life from the rotating perspectives of the three main characters: the mother, and each of the sons. I valued being able to read a story from a different point of view and voice, and felt like I learned more about the difficulties of trying to re-establish ones self and family as immigrants/refugees in a strange land. However, I rarely say this but think I actually would've enjoyed more as an audiobook as I was not sure if I was pronouncing things right in my head and would've like to know I was doing so. I valued being able to hear from a different voice, but overall found the story slow moving. I feel that my struggles with this book are more about me as a reader not finding as much enjoyment in a paced family narrative, than with the writing itself. If that is a genre that you enjoy, then I recommend this one. 

Thank you to #NetGalley, Eric Nguyen, and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Some books start out strong and some books end strong. 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐆𝐒 𝗪𝐄 𝐋𝐎𝐒𝐓 𝐓𝐎 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝗪𝐀𝐓𝐄𝐑 by Eric Nguyen is one of those books that does both. As the story opens in 1979, we meet Huong and her two young sons, Tuấn, 4, and Binh, a baby. They have just arrived in New Orleans, after first leaving Vietnam by boat and then spending time in a refugee camp. In the chaos of fleeing, Huong’s husband, Cong, did not make it onto the boat. Nguyen did a beautiful job laying out their story in a chronological order, with each member of the family sharing his or her perspectives of what was happening in their lives. We see both their fear and anxiety around being in a new land, and their desire to make a full life there. We also feel their pain at not having Cong with them.⁣
I loved that first part of this book, then it slowed down a little for me, but at about the halfway point the story really took off. This was when the perspective from Bihn/Ben began to appear in the rotation, adding more depth to the family story. Somehow, this character added more life, more urgency to the whole story. Each family member had secrets that rippled out to affect the others. I don’t want to say much more, but I do want you to know that 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘞𝘦 𝘓𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳 was a beautifully rendered story that grew stronger and stronger as it neared the end. As I put it down, I felt awed by Nguyen’s debut. His writing was stellar, his character development, subtly layered, and his sense of place, transported me. I can’t wait to read whatever he writes next.
Many thanks to @aaknopf for this beautiful finished copy.⁣
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> Diversity Representation: Vietnamese family, Haitian side character
Content Warnings: Immigrant experience, natural disaster, PTSD, racism, internalized racism, gang violence, drug use, death of a family member, poverty, hate crimes

**Breathtakingly beautiful, lyrical, stunning, devastating, important** 

I found Things We Lost to the Water a day before this book was published, through Loan Le on twitter. Considering A Pho Love Story was one of my favorite recent reads, I immediately requested to read it. I didn't even look into it past the fact that it goes into the immigrant experience of a Vietnamese family. **Let me tell you that it did not disappoint. This story was incredible.** I soaked in every moment of it with deep emotion and appreciation that this book exists. 

Things We Lost to the Water follows a mother and her two sons who escape from Vietnam and make it to New Orleans. It's an epic family tale, spanning 26 years that tells of how the family grows, falls apart, and grapples with what it means to be Vietnamese in New Orleans. 

It's hard to put into words how great this book was. It's full of so many small experiences and feelings that to mention every thing would be too much. **The book dives into the deep complexities of being forced to leave Vietnam and start a new life for yourself in a new country. A country that doesn't care about you, but that you find yourself, inevitably, assimilating into.** It shows us the feeling of longing for a place and a people you've never been through the sons, and the repercussions of wanting to shield your children from your trauma from the mother. 

By following each of the three family members, and jumping between point of views so quickly, **it constantly reminds us that these deep, intricate, and complicated experiences of the characters are echoed in similar and different tales for many more families and people.** Every moment I thought I was getting close to a specific character, we'd switch narratives or move through the years. It was the moments that stayed with me. The book is the story of Huong, Ben and Tuan, but it was so much more. It was experiences shared by many people. It was the confusion of losing a father you didn't know. It's not knowing if you can trust your Chinese neighbors in America, because China occupied Vietnam before France did. **It's losing someone who couldn't make it on the boat themselves.** 

As someone who's father also fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, this book was wildly important for me to read. I love that a book like this exists for a person like me to be able to learn and understand more of the intricacies of my family's experience. I related a lot to Ben, being angry at a father he didn't even know, and spending time being lost and trying to fit into an entirely white world. **But most of all, having to learn about his own family history through books, and facts, and knowledge.** Never quite connecting as much as you need to in order to understand yourself. I'm honestly still in awe that a book like this exists for a person like me to read. I am so grateful to Eric Nguyen for writing a powerful book that somehow found it's way into my hands. Thank you.

# Summing it all up

Things Lost to the Water is a beautifully epic family tale of a Vietnamese family in New Orleans learning to start fresh, and trying and failing to heal personal and generational wounds. It was wildly important to me, and I can't even believe that it found it's way into my hands. But I am so grateful that it has.
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This is a lovely piece of prose about a woman and her sons leaving Vietnam and moving to New Orleans. This books follows the family over a long period of time, over 25 years. There were perspective shifts throughout the novel that gave insight into the experiences of each of the family members. My only dislike is that the ending felt rushed. I’d recommend this one to anyone looking to broaden their horizons of the immigrant experience.
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Huong is a pregnant young mother in war-torn Vietnam.  She, along with her husband, decide to leave Vietnam and immigrate to the U.S.  However, her husband hesitates at the last minute and Huong ends up on the boat alone with her young son.  After giving birth to a second son on the boat, she settles in New Orleans.  This book highlights her struggles as a Vietnamese immigrant and a single mother.  It also gives us insight into the lives of Tuân and Bình, her sons, as they attempt to achieve a balance between preserving and honoring their Vietnamese roots and learning to “fit in” as an American. 

The book was very well-written.  Captivating from the start.  Eric Nguyen has written an eye-opening novel about what it is like to emigrate from Vietnam to the United States. This is a story that needed to be told and that I needed to read.  Pay attention, folks.  Nguyen’s is a fresh, new voice making a statement that we need to hear.  I especially enjoyed the way he used the water to symbolize the struggles of this Vietnamese family, but also as a way to anchor them.  He also took great care to fully develop his three main characters, which can be a daunting task when including multiple main characters.  Not only does the reader really get to know these characters, but we are given the opportunity to learn from them.

I absolutely 100% recommend this book.  As a human being, this book should be required reading.

This one was released on May 4, 2021 and is available as a Book of the Month selection for May 2021.

Thanks to Eric Nguyen, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and Netgalley for this ARC in return for my honest review.
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In 1979 Huong flees Vietnam with her two sons, in hopes of a safer more abundant life in New Orleans. Due to the circumstances of having to leave Vietnam, she leaves behind her husband, Cong hoping she will see him again one day soon. The perspective of this book shifts between Huong and her sons Binh and Tuan to help tell the story of their family's mmigration and settling into America.

The very first thing that struck me about this novel was the writing. It was beautiful and left me breathless at times. The way Nguyen wrote this novel made for such an interesting reading experience. When Huong finally arrives in America, readers feel the strain and overwhelm of the character's dire situation. Jobless, homeless and unable to speak the language, Huong's perspective works to unite readers with the immigrant experience. As the novel progresses, the reader slowly acclimates to the new surroundings alongside the family. This made for a unique and empathy invoking reading experience. 

In a story that follows a family over such a long  period of time--26 years in this case--I love having chapters that change perspectives. My only issue with this book is I almost felt like it needed to be longer to give the reader more time with the characters. The ending felt a little rushed, but this is a very quiet novel, and the juxtaposition of the chaotic events that take place at the end, could have been responsible for my feelings of being rushed towards a conclusion.

This is something I would recommend widely alongside other stories that center immigrant families. It is a powerful family saga that shows the strength of family and community. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday punlishing for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. You can find Things We Lost in the Water on shelves near you NOW!
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This is a beautiful piece of prose. Things We Lost to the Water is a novel about a mother and her two sons who emigrated from Vietnam during the war and immigrated to New Orleans. In a new country without a job or even knowledge of the language spoken or the customs of this new world, Huong and her boys need to learn how to survive and also how to keep the hope alive that Cong, Huong’s husband, will make it to them. 

This novel weaved Huong’s, her oldest boy - Tuan’s and her youngest child - Binh’s lives and followed them through three decades as they changed, grew, learned and made their way through life. Without spoiling too much, I loved how Cong’s absence eventually molded the boys and even Huong herself. 

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes contemporary fiction, multiple character plot lines, and familial and immigrant stories.

Thank you NetGalley and Knopf for this complimentary e-arc of Things Lost to the Water.
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Historical fiction following the lives of a Viet Nam family fleeing In 1978 via boat through their arrival in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Absent her husband who remained behind( clues as to why are subsequently offered but subject to the interpretation of the reader) Huong(mom) and her two children -Tuan who was born in Viet Nam and Binh/ Ben ( with whom she was pregnant at the time) each face different obstacles in adapting to life in New Orleans and cope in different ways.
Each of the characters has his own chapter at different periods of their lives.For me though well written this made the story line fragmented , and at times felt incomplete.
The mother-Huong-I thought the best developed character-isolated, lonely essentially friendless( a boyfriend Vinh does make an appearance) struggling to survive financially and coping with two children who follow completely different paths but for whom she wants only the best.
Water provides the “ bookends” for the novel-a loss of a homeland and husband initially and then the loss of her home and city with Hurricane Katrina. In sum, an excellent reflection on the immigrant experience( in this case from Viet Nam) and the subsequent sense both of loss of homeland and the difficulty of adapting to a new country.
Well written and well done.
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