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