cover image Things We Lost to the Water

Things We Lost to the Water

Eric Nguyen. Knopf, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-31795-2

Nguyen’s captivating debut spans three decades to chronicle the lives of a Vietnamese refugee family. In 1978, Hư ơ ng arrives in New Orleans with her two sons, five-year-old Tuấ n and infant Bì nh. They settle in the Versailles Arms project on the eastern outskirts of the city, where the hurricane alarm reminds Hương of the war, and she mails tape recordings to Cô ng, the husband she left behind. Her messages receive no reply until finally, in a terse postcard, Công urges her to forget him. Hương tells her sons their father died, and over the years, the boys grow to follow different paths. In 1991, Tuấn falls in with a Vietnamese gang, the Southern Boyz. The next summer, Bình, who insists everyone call him Ben, takes refuge in books and a romance with an older white boy. A couple years later, Ben finds Hương’s old letters to Công and confronts her, shattering their increasingly fragile bond. As the characters spin away from each other, Nguyen keeps a keen eye on their struggles and triumphs, crafting an expansive portrayal of New Orleans’s Vietnamese community under the ever-present threat of flooding, and the novel builds to a haunting conclusion during Hurricane Katrina. Readers will find this gripping and illuminating. Agent: Julie Stevenson, Massie & McQuilkin. (May)