cover image Swimming Back to Trout River

Swimming Back to Trout River

Linda Rui Feng. Simon & Schuster, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-982129-39-2

Feng’s striking debut novel (after the nonfiction work City of Marvel and Transformation) chronicles what happens to a young Chinese family in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, five-year-old Junie, who was born without legs, is sent to live with her grandparents in Trout River, a small village. Junie’s father, Momo, has left China for America to seek a better future, with her mother, Cassia, due to follow. Both parents bear the weight of the Cultural Revolution: Momo sacrificed his dreams of becoming a violinist and his friendship with fellow musician Dawn, whose own story forms a minor plotline, while Cassia witnessed the horrifying death of a man she loved while under interrogation by revolutionaries. The novel traces the adults’ attempts to seek reconciliation within themselves and with each other, while Junie’s closeness with her grandparents—and ensuing determination to remain in Trout River despite her father’s wishes—lends brief but emotional drama. Feng captures humor and grief in equal measures, such as a scene with an airport security official who mistakes the ashes of Cassia’s stillborn boy for “baby powder,” and she elegantly references Chinese concepts of fate and luck while building toward a poignant conclusion. This resonates from page one. Agent: Caroline Eisenmann, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (May)