The denouement develops somewhat unnaturally with a deus ex machina conclusion, but Feng mitigates this by showing how families are often split up when one or both parents emigrate and cannot take their children with them. And it’s this part of the story that stands out. Even though Momo and Cassia obtain the proper paperwork to move to the US, their family is still separated as Junie remains in China. For all the talk about legal versus undocumented immigration, in the end it sometimes makes little difference when it comes to family unity.
... ambitious and impressive ... 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. The author’s experience as a professor of Chinese cultural history is an additional asset, as she illustrates and celebrates Chinese sensibilities within the framework of a multilayered, deeply human story that transcends borders.
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.
... an emotional work focused on relationships and filled with love, hope, and determination, but also heartbreak ... Hard to put down, this beautifully written novel is filled with optimism; its characters each seek to do their best under the circumstances and make decisions leading to a better future. 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.
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.
... striking ... 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.