Things We Lost to the Water is a mesmerizing debut of familial bonds, assimilation and home that centers around an immigrant Vietnamese family. Separated from her husband, Huong must figure out how to make a life for herself and her two young sons in New Orleans while coming to terms with the fact that her life will never be as she imagined. The family adapts to American life in ways that sometimes threaten to cause a rift between them, and it is only when Hurricane Katrina devastates their new home city that they find their way back to one another.
“Nguyen’s narrative strikes a very elusive balance: vast in scale and ambition, while luscious and inviting — enchanting, really — in its intimacy.”
—Bryan Washington, The New York Times Book Review
A stunning debut novel about an immigrant Vietnamese family who settles in New Orleans and struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped.
When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. As she and her boys begin to settle in to life in America, she continues to send letters and tapes back to Cong, hopeful that they will be reunited and her children will grow up with a father.
But with time, Huong realizes she will never see her husband again. While she attempts to come to terms with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh, grow up in their absent father's shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memories and imaginations. As they push forward, the three adapt to life in America in different ways: Huong gets involved with a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to connect with his heritage by joining a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, now going by Ben, embraces his adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identityas individuals and as a familythreatens to tear them apart, until disaster strikes the city they now call home and they are suddenly forced to find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
New Orleans is at war. The long howl in the sky; what else can it mean?
Hương drops the dishes into the sink and grabs the baby before he starts crying. She begins running toward the door—but then remembers: this time, another son. She forgets his name temporarily, the howl is so loud. What’s important is to find him.
Is he under the bed? No, he is not under the bed. Is he hiding in the closet? No, he is not in the closet. Is he in the bathroom, then, behind the plastic curtains, sitting scared in the tub? He is not in the bathroom, behind the plastic curtains, sitting scared in the tub. And as she turns around he’s at the door, holding on to the frame, his eyes watering, his cheeks red.
“Mẹ,” he cries. Mom. The word reminds Hương of everything she needs to know. In the next moment she grabs his hand and pulls him toward her chest.
With this precious cargo, these two sons, she darts across the apartment, an arrow flying away from its bow, a bullet away from its gun. She’s racing toward the door and leaping down the steps—but she can’t move fast enough. The air is like water, it’s like running through water. Through an ocean. She feels the wetness on her legs and the water rising. And the sky, the early evening sky, with its spotting of stars already, is streaked red and orange like a fire, like an explosion suspended midair in that moment before the crush, the shattering, the death she’s always imagined until someone yells Stop, someone tells her to Stop.
And just like that, the sirens hush and the silence is violent: it slices, it cuts.
“Hurricane alarm,” Bà Giang says. The old woman drops her cigarette. “Just a hurricane alarm. A test. Nothing to be afraid of.” She reaches over and cups Hương’s cheek.
“What do you mean?” Hương asks.
“A test. They’re doing a test. In case something happens,” Bà Giang says. “Go home now, cưng ơi. Go home. Get some rest. It’s getting late.”
“Late.” Hương understands, or maybe she does not. A thousand thoughts are still settling in her mind. Where were the sounds from before? Not the alarm, but the grating calls of the grackles in the trees, the whistling breeze, a car speeding past—where are they now?
She notices Tuấn at the gates. Her eyes light up.
“Tuấn ơi,” she calls.
Tuấn holds on to the bars of the gate and watches three boys riding past on bicycles. One stands on his pedals. Another rides without hands but only for a second before grabbing—in a panicked motion—the handlebars. A younger one tries to keep up on training wheels. Three boys. Three brothers.
“Tuấn ơi,” Hương calls again.
Tuấn waves as the boys ride leisurely past. When they’re gone, he returns, and Hương feels a mixture of pure happiness, comfort, and relief.
Up the dirt road. A mother and her sons. Hand in hand.