Fish in Exile

A novel by Vi Khi Nao

November 1, 2016 • 5.5 x 8.25 • 192 Pages • 978-1-56689-449-4

The loss of a child takes mythological, magical casts—distortions that allow us to see the contours of grief more clearly.

How do you grieve the death of a child? With fishtanks and jellyfish burials, Persephone’s pomegranate seeds, and affairs with the neighbors. Fish in Exile spins unimaginable loss through classical and magical tumblers, distorting our view so that we can see the contours of a parent’s grief all the more clearly.

About the Author

Vi Khi Nao was born in Long Khánh, Vietnam. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. Her poetry collection, The Old Philosopher, was the winner of 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize. Her novel, Fish In Exile, will make its first appearance in Fall 2016 from Coffee House Press. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“In this jagged and unforgettable work, Vi Khi Nao takes on a domestic story of losing one’s children and elevates it to Greek tragedy. Refusing sentimentality and realism, she shows how personal devastation can feel, to the sufferer, as powerful and enduring as myth.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen

“Smartly innovative, lushly poetic, compellingly told, and truly moving, Fish in Exile is a remarkable, sui generis novel. Vi Khi Nao is a strikingly talented writer whose artistic vision takes many literary forms. I ardently hope she does more long form fiction; she does it splendidly.” —Robert Olen Butler

“The result is a novel that forges a new vocabulary for the routine of grief, as well as the process of healing.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Nao, who was born in Vietnam, blends prose and poetry in her heart-wrenching novel about a couple grieving for their two dead children.” —BBC

“[Nao’s] sentences roll in and surround like a thick fog, dampening, chilling, becoming in certain moments, wholly iridescent.” —Boston Globe

“An off-kilter but effective tone poem on loss and recovery.” —Kirkus

“Told in alternating perspectives, fragments, reports, stage-play format, footnotes, reimagined Greek myths and, at one point, a drawing, Fish in Exile manipulates form as a means to exploring its themes thoroughly.” Los Angeles Times

“This journey across the boundaries of form and genre, to write about what is un-write-aboutable, is a smart maneuver—it permits the reader to experience what has been written about over and over in a way that is fresh and absorbing in its difference.” —NPR

“Vi Khi Nao seems the elusive love child of Anne Carson and Samuel Beckett, a preposterous connection that, somehow, in the end, makes a lot of sense.” —Star Tribune

“[Fish in Exile] highlights the patriarchy’s utter inability to fully understand or appreciate motherhood, the biological imperatives that form the foundation of parenthood, and the acceptance of the notion that grief can never really be extinguished, only embraced as part of the human experience.” —Angel City Review

“The impressions that last, however, will be entirely Nao’s own: all the wondrous forms she has revealed to us, the image of them luminescent, flourishing, in the seemingly dark and empty waters of grief.” —The Harvard Crimson

“Vi Khi Nao has created a meditation that splits open the numbing and disorienting problems of loss and mourning with language that breathes new life into an old suffering.” —The Millions

Fish in Exile is a stunning novel that examines how easily we can fall apart after a disaster. . . . Indeed, the traditional narrative of loss disappears in the capable hands of Vi Khi Nao and we are left with a powerful and devastating story that is surprising in the best ways.” —diaCRITICS

Fish in Exile melts traditional academic narrative with magic and folklore, creating an unforgettable story that reminds the reader there is no universally correct approach to dealing with grief.” —The Rumpus

“A magical and fresh perspective on grief, this beautiful book is like nothing you've ever read before.” —Bustle

“It’s an extreme feat of economy and vision that Vi Khi Nao was able to so robustly depict the aftermath of the death of one’s child in such a fascinating and exciting set of sentences and logic as she has in Fish in Exile.” —Vice

“A staggering tale of the death of a child, this novel is a poetic meditation on loss, the fluidity of boundaries, and feeling like a fish out of water.” —The Millions

“Through mythic tangents and arrest, Nao pulls us through dismemberment, dissociation, and devotion with colossal sentences.” —The Fanzine

“When you open the first pages of Fish in Exile, it is clear: you are conversing with a poet. . . . Reading this novel is like diving under the surface of the ocean, and sinking, deeper and deeper, until you are somehow deposited back on dry land.” —Heavy Feather Review

“The language ranges from frank gallows humor to unexpectedly devastating, as if you’re at a party exchanging sarcastic witticisms with a stranger and then she suddenly hits you over the head with a brick.” —The Rejectionist

“For all the weightiness of its subject matter, Fish in Exile is also surprisingly light on its feet: eccentric, absurd, and delightfully wry. This book wriggles with so much originality and life, it'll have you hooked from the very start.” —BuzzFeed

Fish in Exile is that rare thing: a piece of art that transports you to an atmosphere you’ve never breathed. It is a sensitive exploration of the impossibility and, ultimately, the inevitability, of beginning to live again after shattering loss.” —Totally Dublin

“Occupying a myriad of spaces and spanning genres and mediums, Nao’s work is a multi-faceted examination of the intersecting spaces of the religious, the corporeal, the industrial, and the pastoral.” —Stutzwrites

“Vi Khi Nao’s language isn’t made of words like everyone else’s. This can’t be true, so it must be that Vi Khi Nao has found a way to sensitize words into a phase change, into a state of semantic overflow. Nao’s sentences proceed via floral, clitoral, littoral surges. Fish in Exile is what leaks from the forms literary grief has taken, and what floats away, an amalgam of jellyfish and clouds. I love this book for its texture, its granular absurdities, its aqueous erotics, its garlic paper longing. I’ve never felt anything like it.” —Joanna Ruocco

“Vi Khi Nao’s Fish in Exile resonates with the unconscious fecundity of myth. A modern allegory of children who give birth to their mother, minnows that push a whale’s shopping cart around Walmart, and hospitals that exude an odor of insane asylums and Windex: Demeter, Callisto, Catholic, and Ethos live again in Nao’s world, and make new the most fundamental contradictions of life—separation, desire, bondage, freedom, loyalty, birth.” —Steve Tomasula