Swimming Back to Trout River

A novel by Linda Rui Feng.

Linda Rui Feng

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

In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, 10-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. (From Simon & Schuster Canada)

Swimming Back to Trout River was on the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist

Linda Rui Feng is an academic and writer, who is currently a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto. Swimming Back to Trout River is her first novel.

Why Linda Rui Feng wrote Swimming Back to Trout River

"I started with this idea of a child who refuses to emigrate and what repercussions does that have when a child says, 'I'm at home right here and I have everything I need here.' How does that impact the narrative of going elsewhere? I like the idea that this could play out in a larger set of events with adults in the family, and then bring it back to events that happened before the child was born.

I started with this idea of a child who refuses to emigrate and what repercussions does that have.- Linda Rui Feng

"Those are the threads that came together when I was starting. Then, as I was writing, I was going into rabbit holes with music, with history, with immigration, with different parts of historical moments in America and in China."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

From the book

The train that was deliveirng 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 indistinguishable. To Junie, who was five and wasn't otherwise prone to premonitions of loss, it seemed as though something unprecedented was about to happen, and it made her almost afraid, until the scenery outside the window began to change. Junie had never seen so many dewy rivers and paddies, or so many trembling shades of green, and they exerted a tug on her that the snowy landscapes of her birthplace had never done.

Throughout their trip, passengers in adjacent bunks, noticing Junie's empty trouser legs, asked Cassia about them, believing themselves to be striking up a conversation with a somber woman who needed company. But Cassia pretended not to hear them, and after this happened a couple of times, no one asked again.

From Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng published by Simon & Schuster Canada Copyright © 2021.


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