Synopses & Reviews
After the death of his brother, a grief-stricken young man seeks refuge and oblivion in a secluded fishing village dominated by a family of brujas in this haunting debut novel, inspired, in part, by the ramifications of Diné history and thought—a mesmerizing, original tale in the tradition of works by Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, and Gabriel García Márquez.
When the river swallowed Kai, Damien’s little brother didn’t die so much as vanish. As the unbearable loss settles deeper into his bones, Damien, a small-town line cook, walks away from everything he has ever known. Heading as far south as his old truck and his legs allow, he lands in a fishing village beyond the reach of his past where he hopes he can finally forget.
But the village has grief of its own. The same day that Damien arrives, a young woman from the community’s most powerful family is being laid to rest. A stranger in town, Damien is the object of gossip and suspicion, ignored by all except the dead girl’s mother, Ana Maria, who offers Damien a room and a job.
Grateful for her kindness, Damien soon begins to fall under Ana Maria's charismatic spell. But how long can he resist the rumors swirling through town suggesting she might have had something to do with her daughter’s death? Or deny his strange kinship with one of Ana Maria's surviving daughters, Marta, who knows too well the grief that follows the loss of a sibling—and who is driven by a fierce need for revenge? Swiftly, Damien finds himself caught in a power struggle between the brujas, a whirlwind battle that threatens to sweep the whole village out to sea.
Resonant with the Diné creation story and the unshakeable weight of the Long Walk — the forced removal of the Navajo from their land — Swim Home to the Vanished is a mesmerizingly original tale, one that brilliantly, poignantly explores the human capacity for grief and resilience and the lasting effects such longing has on the soul.
"Basham shines in his depictions of Damien's yearning and catharsis....Readers will find much to admire in the author's unique voice." Publishers Weekly
"Basham's debut novel is complex and enigmatic, featuring a mythic sensibility and elements of magical realism, including the early stages of Damien's metamorphosis into a fish and other characters' taking on the physical characteristics of lizards and insects. The novel's prose is lush and evocative, and there's an almost erotic charge to Basham's writing about food, a central element in the story." Kirkus Reviews
"In Swim Home to the Vanished, Brendan Basham has delivered a profoundly moving novel of originality, full of grief and hope. It is a bold and powerful new work of fiction." Brandon Hobson, author of The Removed
"Swim Home to the Vanished is a lush, soulful saga about profound loss and the mysteries of carrying on under its weight. An audacious debut novel bristling with insight, imagination, and real heart." Claire Vaye Watkins, author of I Love You, But I've Chosen Darkness
“Swim Home to the Vanished is a lush and fantastic journey through strange lands and minds from an incandescent new voice full of my kind of melancholic brilliance and unromantic magic. The book devastates buoyantly, sensually, like some culinary chimera rising from heretofore unknown waters to take you under and wrap you like a song. Brendan Basham’s novel is the announcement of an emerging writer fully formed.” Tommy Orange, author of There There
About the Author
Brendan Shay Basham (Diné) is a fiction writer, poet, educator, and former chef, born in Alaska and raised in Northern Arizona. He received his MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts, and a BA in Liberal Arts from The Evergreen State College. His work has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Santa Fe Literary Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and Juked, among other publications. He is a recipient of Poetry Northwest’s inaugural James Welch Prize for Indigenous writers, the Ucross Foundation’s first Fellowship for Native American Writers, and fellowships from the Truman Capote Literary Trust, Tin House, and Writing By Writers. Basham lives in Baltimore, where he runs a make-believe café with his wife and dog.