Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang

Title: A Memoir of My Father 
Author:  Kao Kalia Yang 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Publish Date: May 10, 2016
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes.

Following her award-winning book The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang now retells the life of her father Bee Yang, the song poet, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by American's Secret War. Bee lost his father as a young boy and keenly felt his orphanhood. He would wander from one neighbor to the next, collecting the things they said to each other, whispering the words to himself at night until, one day, a song was born. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee's mother, the songs leave him for good. But before they do, Bee, with his poetry, has polished a life of poverty for his children, burnished their grim reality so that they might shine."

My Two Cents:

There is a tradition among the Hmong people to have dedicated people to sing about their lives and history. It is a time honored tradition and not everyone is up for the challenge. In "The Song Poet," we meet Kalia and her father, a man who is a "song poet" among his people. His life is full of sorrow - he has a very tough life in war-torn Southeast Asia before coming to America and settling in Minnesota with his family, which presents another set of problems. Through it all, Bee Yang is driven to provide for his wife and children. This is a powerful memoir that shows just how strong the human spirit is.

Kalia Yang can definitely write. Her prose is gorgeous and the way she brings her father and the rest of her family to life is really fantastic. Her writing alone kept me reading. What makes this book really special, however, is Bee Yang's voice. We get to see his childhood and where he came from through his eyes. I did not know pretty much anything about the Hmong people prior to reading this book and found Bee's remembrances of all of the places he has been really interesting.

This book grapples with a lot of difficult subjects that pulled me in. Having been born in the United States and having lived here my entire life, it is so hard for me to imagine leaving my country and trying to build a new life somewhere else. Seeing how Bee deals with this really pulled me in and seeing Kalia's remembrances as an immigrant growing up in the United States was great.

I was not familiar with this author before reading this book but now I really want to go back and read her first book if the writing is anything like this book. Overall, this is a great memoir that pulled on my heart!



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