Things We Lost to the Water
Poets & Writers Magazine|July - August 2021
Eric Nguyen whose debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water, was published in May by Knopf.
By Eric Nguyen

Eric Nguyen whose debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water, was published in May by Knopf.

INTRODUCED BY

Nguyên Phan Quê Mai author of eleven books, most recently The Mountains Sing, published in 2020 by Algonquin Books.

Growing up in Vietnam, I was discouraged to read literary works by those who fled our country after the war, since they were branded as “traitors.” It took me years to start picking up books by Vietnamese refugees and acknowledge their importance. Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen is a novel that makes me reflect deeply on the complicated relationships among Vietnamese people: those who had no choice but to abandon the land of their birth and those who were forced to stay. While centering on the Vietnamese American experiences, this novel is a global tale of family, secrets, survival, and hope. Told in the voices of a mother, Hu’o’ng, and her two sons, Tuân and Bình (Ben), who were torn apart by the storms of Vietnam, only to be tested again by the hurricanes of New Orleans, Things We Lost to the Water is a devastatingly beautiful and necessary read. The ending brought me to tears. Eric’s talent radiates via his urgent prose and his ability to sketch the fine line between loyalty and betrayal, between what brings us together and what breaks us apart. More than a powerful book, this novel is an act of reconciliation; therefore I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview Eric for First Fiction 2021.

You have worked for several years as a reviewer and editor of diaCRITICS, profiling the work of writers and artists of the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian diaspora. How did your editorial experiences influence the inception and crafting of your debut novel, Things We Lost to the Water?

I have been a book reviewer for diaCRITICS and am now its editor. Being a critic of Vietnamese diasporic literature has opened my eyes to the diversity of stories Vietnamese writers are telling. Having grown up when there weren’t many such stories being told, I find it thrilling to see what Vietnamese writers are doing. Reading so many of them inspired me to write a book about Vietnamese Americans. These writers gave me permission to tell Vietnamese American stories.

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