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Kat Chow Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir (2021)Description / Buy at Amazon

Kat Chow is an Asian-American writer popularly known for 2021, Seeing Ghosts memoir. She’s also a journalist and one of the founding members of the Code Switch podcast and National Public Radio show. Kat is also a frequent NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast panelist. Her 2021 memoir talks of Kat’s family’s immigration into the United States through Hong Kong and Cuba when she was only 13 years and how her mother’s death affected her. Kat Chow attended the University of Washington, earning a B.A. in journalism with a minor in diversity in 2012. She won the Asian American Journalists Association National Journalism Award in 2015.

Some grief memoirs books are troubled, some angry, and others resigned. But despite all these different characteristics, they all face the task of transforming pain into something people might want to read. Such transformation is a trick of alchemy that only courageous people can undertake. Seeing Ghosts by Kat Chow is a memoir that details the death of Chow’s mother when she was barely a teenager. We compare the past, present, and future scenes to get a realistic picture rather than sticking through the story chronologically. This helps make the story feel natural and smooth.

Besides focusing on Chow’s mother’s death, Seeing Ghosts is also a story that focuses on an immigrant’s tale, the dreams the immigrants bring to America, and how those dreams are never attained. Chow’s parents migrated from China to Hong Kong and later settled in Connecticut. Her mother was loving, highly eccentric, worked in an insurance company, and later as a computer programmer. On the other hand, her father was dry, depressed, invested in property, and tried his hand at purchasing restaurants which imminently failed. Chow had three sisters, Stephanie and Caroline being the oldest and Katelin being the youngest.

The main ghost in the memoir title refers to Chow’s mother, who died two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer in 2004. Chow filters how it feels to grieve beyond the initial shock of death. Even years after her mother’s death, she sometimes said to her sisters, “I feel like I always miss Mommy,” and then sobs.

While Seeing Ghost’s memoir wouldn’t have been possible without the author’s grief- she would never have been the person she is today without losing her mother- the main theme in this book goes beyond unleashing her primal anguish. The ghosts in the book are plural as not only does her mother’s ghost visit her, but also do other relatives she never met in life, including her maternal grandmother, who died when her mother was only four years old, her brother, who was born prematurely, her paternal grandfather. In telling such stories, Chow tells the readers what we owe our ancestors, how the grief system permeates our lives, and the seriousness of losing people, places, and identities.

As mentioned earlier, Chow is one of the founding mothers of the NPR’s podcast Code Switch, and her journalism background and deeply rooted interest in identity, race and cultural history deeply contributed much to this memoir’s success. Chow’s parents- her mother, Bo Mui, and her father, Wing Shek were born in Guangzhou, and their families migrated to Hong Kong to escape the Communist rule. The two migrated to the U.S. for college studies and met in suburban Connecticut in 1980 in a town with no Cantonese community.

While in Connecticut, Chow’s family would communicate in English at home, but they never forgot their cultural practices, like celebrating Lunar New Year. Chow admits that she barely understood the essence of such cultural traditions as a child. Still, after her mother’s death, these cultural ways of caring for her spirit took over as her mother’s ghost kept following her around. Chow further explains her visions of her mother, similar to how they would play hide and seek with her mother when she was still alive.

For much of the first section of this book, Chow writes directly to her mother to understand what she truly wants out of life. By presenting her mother “into being,” she manages to pay a debt for the silence that ensued after Florence’s death. Chow brings out Florence’s naughty nature and lurid sense of humor to life through the pages, relating to how her mother requested Chow to her taxidermized after death. “I want you to get me stuffed so I can sit in your apartment and always watch you,” Florence said.

Through startling memories like this, Chow begins to understand everything she never knew about her mother. Was she happy in her marriage which always experienced money problems? Was Chow responsible for her mother’s death since she halted the treatment just to be able to give birth?

Even though Seeing Ghost’s memoirs moves back and forth in time, the main narrative is linear, and as the main character moves closer to the present, the ghost she is truly concerned with is one that’s not yet dead: her father. She is concerned about his father’s past motivation. Why did he leave his well-paying career as an engineer to start a restaurant that made him go bankrupt? What were his motivations for hoarding broken-down cars and newspapers? And what was his motivation for attempting to taxidermy a fish? Chows places her father in a journalistic interview, but his answers always evade the heart of her questions.

At the end of it all, Chow, her sisters, and their father finally agree to Florence’s last wish. They agreed they would have her son’s remains cremated and buried with her. While they head to the cemetery, the girls talk about how they miss their mother daily. “That’s how it means to lose someone close to you, understanding how memories change and shape us after all these years,” Chow reflects. In Seeing Ghosts, Chow has somehow fulfilled her mother’s request to be taxidermized by sharing her story with the rest of the world to read and learn from. If you enjoy reading grief memoir books in which the authors share details without leaving any stone unturned, then Seeing Ghosts is a highly recommended read.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Kat Chow

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