SHORTLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE
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.”
“A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love.” —Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee and Girl in Translation
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.
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. Feng’s debut is “filled with tragedy yet touched with life-affirming passion” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and “Feng weaves a plot both surprising and inevitable, with not a word to spare” (Booklist, starred review).
Feng's striking debut novel (after the nonfiction work City of Marvel and Transformation) chronicles what happens to a young Chinese family in the wake of the Cultural Revolution. In 1981, five-year-old Junie, who was born without legs, is sent to live with her grandparents in Trout River, a small village. Junie's father, Momo, has left China for America to seek a better future, with her mother, Cassia, due to follow. Both parents bear the weight of the Cultural Revolution: Momo sacrificed his dreams of becoming a violinist and his friendship with fellow musician Dawn, whose own story forms a minor plotline, while Cassia witnessed the horrifying death of a man she loved while under interrogation by revolutionaries. The novel traces the adults' attempts to seek reconciliation within themselves and with each other, while Junie's closeness with her grandparents and ensuing determination to remain in Trout River despite her father's wishes lends brief but emotional drama. Feng captures humor and grief in equal measures, such as a scene with an airport security official who mistakes the ashes of Cassia's stillborn boy for "baby powder," and she elegantly references Chinese concepts of fate and luck while building toward a poignant conclusion. This resonates from page one.