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Publisher's Summary

A captivating 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. This stunning debut is "vast in scale and ambition, while luscious and inviting…in its intimacy" (The New York Times Book Review).

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 identity - as individuals and as a family - threatens 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.

©2021 Eric Nguyen (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

One of President Obama's Favorite Books of the Year

Winner of the Crook's Corner Book Prize for Best Debut Novel Set in the American South

Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize

A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year

An Atlanta Journal Constitution Top 10 Southern Book of the Year 

A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year 

Named One of the "Fifteen Books to Watch For" by The New York Times

“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

“Eric Nguyen’s masterful debut novel Things We Lost to the Water is a deeply engaging, heart-rending look at a family of Vietnamese refugees struggling to survive and how the choices they make as individuals have ripple effects on each other.” (Suzanne Van Atten, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)  

"Things We Lost to the Water introduces an exquisite new voice in author Eric Nguyen; his debut novel is a luminous, balletic portrayal of an immigrant Vietnamese family in the US.... Nguyen navigates their multiple perspectives with dexterity and emotional clarity, aching but never maudlin. I loved every page." (Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed)  

What listeners say about Things We Lost to the Water

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Vietnamese immigrant experience

A worthwhile read that appears to lose its way a little bit at the end. I know that endings are a challenge for many authors so I don’t hold a shaky ending against the author. The characters seem to have an inordinate number of very lucid dreams to move the story along, Something a lot of writers seem to be relying on these days to move the story forward.

A good story, however.

4 people found this helpful

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Narrator really helped me understand the story.

I wasn't sure if I liked this book at first, but it was a good story and I kept going. I don't prefer to listen to books, but I'm glad this is how I experienced this one. The narrator clearly understood the nature of Vietnamese characters and the rhythms of speech and of the text. It's a different style for me, but I appreciated the imagery and poetic ways certain moments were depicted.

1 person found this helpful

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Uninspired writing.

Written and read at Jr High School level. I hung in for an hour...hoping for something....but no.

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Powerfully insightful

Loved listening to this book. Reading it felt difficult since I'm fairly ignorant of Vietnamese pronunciation, so hearing the narrator speak was refreshing to my overly concerned brain.

The story was a poignant telling of being uprooted from one home and learning to survive someplace new. The harsh alienation, the missteps in raising a child and the folly of youth, and discordant feeling of being out of place now matter where you go.

My only gripe likely has more to do with my personal taste in reading, but I didn't find there to be much plot to the story. But that doesn't mean it wasn't well written.

While I typically go in for books that are taking the reader in a journey and leaving you theorizing and curious, this reads like a recollection of memories that are striking in the life of the protagonists, but won't be the key to uncovering any grand mystery later in the narrative.

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Narrator distracting

I am an avid audible fan. Love sci fi, fiction, business and self help books. While I do truly appreciate the authenticity of the Vietnamese narrator and her pronunciations of all things Vietnamese in the book, her narration didn’t ring true for me. I felt like I was watching a movie that had actors that were overacting and thus the story being told by her was distracting as opposed to exciting.

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One on the best of the year?

For me I find it hard to believe this is one of the best of the year.