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  • Writer's pictureChrissy's Books

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Rating: 8/10

I remember seeing this book on Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s Instagram account. She is a Vietnamese author of an absolutely amazing book that I loved to bits called, The Mountains Sing. She raved about how fantastic this book was, and was also supporting another fellow Vietnamese author. I also just loved how captivating and moving this book cover is. It looked like it would be an epic story and you guys know how much I love my epic reads! Haha I have give a huge thanks to Knopf Publishers for sending me a digital advance review copy of this read! Things We Lost to the Water is a debut book from Eric Nguyen and I was definitely intrigued when I read the synopsis below.


The setting for this read is Vietnam and mostly New Orleans.

We follow a young mother names Huong, as she arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons. She is jobless, homeless and worries about her husband Cong, who remained behind in Vietnam. As she slowly begins to adjust to her new life in New Orleans, she continues to send letters and voice recordings to her husband back home in the hopes that Cong will soon join them in America and that her children will grow up with their father around.

As time passes, Huong realizes she will never see her husband again. While she copes with this realization, her sons Tuan and Binh grow up in their absent father’s shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memory and imagination. The family adapt to life in America in very different ways: Huong seeks the company of a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to keep his heritage alive and connects with a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, who now goes by Ben, fully embraces his new homeland and his new found sexuality. Their search for identity as individuals and as a family, threatens to tear them apart. But then disaster strikes the city they now call home, and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.

My Review:

Judging by the book cover and the title of this book, I knew that it would be one of those epic and emotional stories and it definitely did not disappoint with that initial feeling.

I really enjoyed reading this book immensely. The narrative was bold, sweeping, and definitely kept you gripped the whole way through. I loved the characters of this read and you could really feel for each individual character as well which I thought the author did a fantastic job with. We follow this young mother as she makes her epic journey from everything she has ever known in Vietnam as she lands in a foreign and quite strange land here in America. It was an extremely relate-able story if you come from an immigrant family. That initial fear of the unknown to suddenly go from everything you have ever known to a strange land with nothing in your pockets and children in tow.. So brutal. I loved these sections of the book a lot. We then follow these great characters as they evolve and grow through decades in America and adjust in their own individual ways to the life they now have. What a realistic and strong narrative. I loved it!

I thought the setting of the book was extremely visual. New Orleans. Hot, sticky, vibrant. I also loved the Vietnamese community in this book. It’s just so realistic to many parts of the US. Immigrants sticking together, trying to make do in their new environments, but also embracing this new environment while also staying true to their culture and community. It was a great insight into the Vietnamese immigrant experience. Brilliant and visual book. The setting was really great and I don’t often read a lot of books based in New Orleans so I found this to be quite refreshing

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.

My only critique would be that I wish the book was a little longer. I wanted to know the characters a little bit more because we mostly got short clips from each character. The story also jumped through time quite vastly and I felt that the ending was a little too rushed. Otherwise, I honestly enjoyed reading this book and I cannot believe this was Eric Nguyen’s debut book! Beautiful writing as well and I will definitely be reading more from him.

All in all, 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. Read it if you want a gorgeous, raw, and emotional story to get into.

Song Pick:

For this song pick, I chose Photograph by Ed Sheeran. I feel like this song is very relatable especially for the beginning sections of this book. It's all about being separated from your loved ones, missing them, and keeping them in your thoughts. It's also a very beautiful song that fits with the mood of this read.

To purchase 'Things We Lost to the Water' on Amazon, click the link below:

Genre: Historical Fiction | LGBTQ+

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Pages: 304 Pages

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group


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