Book Review: Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

Good morning! Hope everyone has been great while I’ve been away for a few days. I’ve missed you, but humbly I know no one really noticed. Which is totally okay. πŸ˜‚ Anyway! We just moved into a brand new, beautiful apartment. We’re not settled in completely yet, but we have a functioning living space at the very least. But I did finally get to sit down and have my coffee and read this morning for the first time in a few days, and it has been incredibly missed. I hope all of you are able to have some cosy reading time, even though we’re looking straight into summer very soon! Please enjoy my review of Things We Lost to the Water!

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Title: Things We Lost to the Water
Author: Eric Nguyen
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction, contemporary

A stunning family epic about generational trauma and surviving any storm at all costs

At a glance: 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.

  • 🌏 South East Asian Rep
  • 🧭 Immigrant Experience
  • πŸ₯€ Flawed Characters
  • πŸ“œ Historical Fiction

Read this if… you love lyrical prose, if you’re looking for a Vietnamese immigrant experience, family focused stories, books set in New Orleans

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

Book Review

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 (you can read my review here, if you want!), 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.

Quick Summary: 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 its way into my hands. But I am so grateful that it has.

About Eric Nguyen

Eric Nguyen earned an MFA in creative writing from McNeese State University in Louisiana. he has been awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary, Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA), and the Tin House Writers Workshop. he is the editor in chief of diaCRITICS. he lives in Washington, DC. β€‹things we lost to the water β€‹is first novel.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read any other Vietnamese books that you can recommend to me? Are you into lyrical prose? Have you read any other epic family sagas like this one?

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Another book to add to my TBR, check out Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen!

**I received a free copy of this book (thank you!) and am leaving this review voluntarily**