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 later fled 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.
The novel starts with a pregnant Huong arriving in 1979 New Orleans alongside her young son. She traveled without her husband, Cong, still in Vietnam, and Huong is jobless, disoriented, and without a home. After settling into an apartment building filled with other Vietnamese refugees, she’s hopeful that she will soon reunite with her husband, and so Huong begins sending tapes and letters back to Cong in Vietnam. However, she soon realizes that Cong will not be joining them in the U.S., and while Huong tries to come to terms with his absence, her two sons, Tuan and Binh, must grow up without their father.
Nguyen’s powerful and moving debut touches on immigration, racism, finding one’s identity both as a family and an individual, and what brings people together (and pushes them apart).