Matthew Salesses’ debut novel The Hundred Year Flood is a lyrical adventure through the streets of Prague. Young Korean American Tee at the center of everything, as he tries to reinvent himself and separate himself from his adopted parents and the apparently destructive cycle of his adopted father. He escapes to Prague following his uncle’s suicide and 9/11 hoping to shed the past. His struggles and exploits are detailed in a beautifully transient way, as the writing pulls you closer and closer to the oncoming once-in-a-hundred-years flood. Tee befriends a revolutionary artist and his wife, among other characters, in Prague, but his actions and reactions drive the story forward, all twisted in with a bit of mysticism.
I’ve put off writing this review for a few days in part because I’m still processing, probably will still be processing for a second-go-around read. And that, I feel, is a sign of a strong novel, the kind that grabs on and is confusing and real and many other things. It is both light yet complex, stirring yet sparse in just over two hundred pages. But the chapters breeze by before you realize how caught up you are, not so much in the plot, as in the writing and the emotions.
He chose Prague for its resistance. A city where, for thousands of years, private lives had withstood the oppression of empires…Prague might be the perfect place, after all: a city that valued anonymity, the desire to be no one and someone at once.
As Tee seeks to shed his past, escape the cycle of family behavior, he gets lost and confused and tries to find his way, and the writing reflects that as the readers go on a similar journey, trying to piece the bits together. It’s a pleasure to read with a wide range of human emotions packed in, with ghosts, affairs, friendship, jealousies and the works thrown in. Most of the plot unfolds in Prague, a city packed with its on layers that makes for a unique setting of escape while grappling with family and loss. American and Asian sensibilities up against a Europe in the aftermath of revolution. This is a book about the journey, and it’s those first chapters that really draw you in. The ending is an ending, neat in many ways, but I would argue that what makes The Hundred Year Flood worth reading is the in-between chapters.