Eric Nguyen has hit the scene with Things We Lost to the Water. A stunning debut about an immigrant Vietnamese family who settles in New Orleans and struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped. At the core, we follow Huong, Tuan, and Binh, who are struggling with their loss of home, and in some ways, themselves.
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.
We got to ask Eric if he sees himself in his characters, and if so, which ones, Pride month traditions, and self-care during Pride.
Reading Group Center: In Things We Lost to the Water, there are three characters that this story centers around, Huong, Tuan, and Binh. Which character do you see yourself the most in? Why?
Eric Nguyen: I think I see myself most in Binh. He has no memory of Vietnam and has strong roots in America and as a Vietnamese American born in the U.S., there’s that similarity between him and myself. For part of the novel, he tries to connect in some way to his heritage, and writing this novel was my way to connect with my family’s history. He also finds himself pulled into the world of literature, and growing up, I did too. So, there’s a lot in our paths that are really similar.
RGC: Speaking of Ben . . . this was the sweetest tweet! What did you want to get right about this first kiss scene, especially how it deals with coming to terms with your sexuality?
EN: I wanted to slow down time and make it a moment of joy. I think a lot of stories of coming into one’s sexuality are filled with guilt and fear. I wanted to celebrate queerness. And indeed, the moment of finding one’s queerness should be an exciting experience. Truly—you’re finding out who you are and what you want! Why not celebrate it? So I wanted that first kiss moment to be stripped of stigma, to be a space away from normal life. Making it a scene set apart by itself, changing the rhythm of the sentences, I hoped to make it a special, euphoric moment.
RGC: How are you taking time for yourself these days and during Pride month?
EN: This Pride month, I’m planning to return to the queer books I love and find more queer books to read. I want to use the month to celebrate queer stories, and the diversity we have. Really not that different from what I usually do—reading books and talking about the ones I love to anyone who will listen.
RGC: Do you have any Pride month traditions? Will you be celebrating any differently this year?
EN: Usually, Pride month means going out to the local pride festival and parade. Even as the pandemic looks like it’s nearly ending, the big pride festival events are still not happening. So, I expect this year will be virtual events and small gatherings with friends.
RGC: Favorite snack, song, or show right now?
EN: I’m listening to anything Eurovision right now, which is perhaps a very gay answer.