Reviews of Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

Swimming Back to Trout River

by Linda Rui Feng

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng X
Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2021, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Hon Khalaf
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About this Book

Book Summary

A lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution that follows a father's quest to reunite his family before his precocious daughter's momentous birthday, which Garth Greenwell calls "one of the most beautiful debuts I've read in years."

How many times in life can we start over without losing ourselves?

In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie's growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family's shared future.

What Junie doesn't know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China's Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie's future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie's birthday—even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.

"A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love," (Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee) Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn—a talented violinist from Momo's past—while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.

Two Children of Trout River Two Children of Trout River

THE TRAIN THAT WAS DELIVERING Junie to Trout River was just pulling out of the station and gathering speed, and already the compartment was filling up with cigarette smoke and the gregarious sound of sunflower seeds being cracked open. This was 1981, when trips traversing the length of China took days, and the passengers, having waited for that first lurch of the train, now sprang into action. They poured each other hot water for tea from a communal thermos stabilized inside a metal ring beneath the window where Junie sat on the lap of her mother, Cassia.

Cassia too was set into motion in her own way. She began to tell Junie over and over again to listen to her grandparents, as if some urgent and collaborative task awaited them at the end of the journey. The cadence of that litany—listen to them, they know what's good for you—merged with the rhythmic rattle of the train until the two sounds became ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The story reflects the natural ebbs and flows, the minor entanglements and ripple-effect impacts that each person has upon each other as the moments of life unfold. In this sense, it is surprising that Feng manages to keep the reader's attention throughout, but this is accomplished through the care and thoughtfulness in her writing, and the subtle love and respect that we come to feel for the characters. These elements draw us back to keep reading Feng's beautiful phrases and to keep wondering with interest what will happen next...continued

Full Review (525 words).

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(Reviewed by Jennifer Hon Khalaf).

Media Reviews

BookPage
Sensitively exploring themes of grief, hope and resilience, Swimming Back to Trout River is a symphony of a novel that is operatic in scope and elevated by Feng’s artful writing.

New York Times
With lean prose and assured storytelling, this debut novel describes a family fractured by geography, ambition and the ripple effects of China’s tumultuous 20th-century history.

Booklist (starred review)
Feng's lithe debut moves with grace from Communist China to San Francisco and the Great Plains, and from the 1960s to the 1980s, as it follows four interlocked lives...With the lightest of touches, Feng vividly portrays the experience of living in China during Mao's rule as well as the pressures of being a new immigrant. Looking deeply into the 'invisible mesh' that links her characters' lives, Feng weaves a plot both surprising and inevitable, with not a word to spare.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
With disarmingly quiet prose, Feng digs beneath Cassia's and Momo's reluctance to mine their emotional depths as they struggle to grasp their individual experiences as well as their fractured relationship. Filled with tragedy yet touched with life-affirming passion.

Library Journal
Hard to put down, this beautifully written novel is filled with optimism…Feng makes her mark in this promising debut, and she successfully weaves in several unexpected plot twists as the narrative unfolds, leaving readers to long for a sequel.

Publishers Weekly
[S]triking...Feng captures humor and grief in equal measures...and she elegantly references Chinese concepts of fate and luck while building toward a poignant conclusion. This resonates from page one.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
What can account for the astonishing emotional force of this debut novel? Maybe it's that Linda Rui Feng understands her characters with an intimacy one seldom encounters, or the sense one has that she loves them so much. Or maybe it's Feng's exceedingly rare gift for putting language to feelings so profound, and so exquisitely observed, that they escape all readymade names. Everything in this gorgeously orchestrated novel surprises, everything outraces expectation. Swimming Back to Trout River is one of the most beautiful debuts I have read in years.

Author Blurb Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee and Girl in Translation
Linda Rui Feng's Swimming Back to Trout River is a beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration and most of all, love. I was swept away by Feng's fierce intelligence and keen insight even as her characters captured my heart with their tender hopes and bold actions. A gorgeous book that I couldn't put down.

Author Blurb Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes
Swimming Back to Trout River is notable for the grace of its prose and the harmony of its intertwined narratives, but the essential 'beat' of this wonderful fiction is the heartbeat of its characters, so richly and lovingly brought to life.

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Beyond the Book

Classical Music and the Cultural Revolution

Painting of Ludwig van BeethovenIn Swimming Back to Trout River, Dawn and Momo are united by their love of music during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, particularly Western classical music. There is a special significance attached to a bust of Beethoven within the novel. Beethoven was seen as a revolutionary symbol throughout 20th century China, since his personal hardships resonated with Chinese cultural ideals about struggle and triumph. Yet, Beethoven, along with all other Western music, was banned during the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Prior to the onset of the Cultural Revolution, there was much cultural interchange between China and the West, with Shanghai dubbed "the Paris of the East" as early as 1869, and the introduction ...

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