Journalist Chow writes longingly about her mother, who died from cancer, in this intimate debut about a life shaped by loss. “It is not incorrect to say that for years, the way my family grieved my mother was to avoid acknowledging her altogether,” she writes. In an effort to preserve her mother’s memory after her mother’s death in 2004, Chow traced the story of her mother’s life, from her birth in China in 1955 through her troubled marriage with Chow’s father in Connecticut to her painful last days. Woven in are several other family specters, including her maternal grandmother’s death at age 41 (“it seemed all the Yu women died young”); generational schisms caused by the Chinese Communist Party; and the infant death of Chow’s older brother. While deep emotion drives her writing, Chow generally avoids oversentimentality and buoys what could otherwise be an overwhelmingly despondent narrative with bursts of joy and irreverence—such as memories of her mother’s fondness for “kissing books” and playing pranks on her children. The result is a moving depiction of grief at its most mundane and spectacular. Agent: Jin Auh, the Wylie Agency. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Journalist Chow writes longingly about her mother, who died from cancer, in this intimate debut about a life shaped by loss. . . While deep emotion drives her writing, Chow generally avoids oversentimentality and buoys what could otherwise be an overwhelmingly despondent narrative with bursts of joy and irreverence. . . The result is a moving depiction of grief at its most mundane and spectacular."Publishers Weekly
"Readers familiar with Chow’s reporting on NPR will not be surprised at her storytelling skills, which shine even more brightly here. This haunting, deeply moving, and beautifully written chronicle of the immense grief that once tore Chow's family apart and now binds them will resonate with every reader."Booklist, starred review
"By uniting family memories, elements of Chinese culture, and an intimate perspective, Chow wraps tragedy and history into an affecting memorial. A powerful remembrance of a family unmoored by the loss of its matriarch."Kirkus Reviews
"Kat Chow dares to explore the lingering dynamics of her family’s shared grief in her breathtaking debut memoir. . . It’s a bittersweet meditation on how losing the ones we love indelibly shapes the futures of the living, and how we ultimately find healing in the strength of family."TIME Magazine
"[A] vivid portrait of [Chow's] loving and flawed Chinese American family. The book is a tribute to Chow's spirited mother, but it's also a revealing portrait of three daughters trying to negotiate a complicated relationship with their family."Library Journal
"Kat Chow’s memoir tackles a vast topic—grief—and brings it into focus with a gripping, harrowing personal story. . . Her book is a touching meditation on what it means to know and remember a loved one and how we can continue living without losing sight of the people who have shaped our lives, even after they’re gone."Town & Country
"Seeing Ghosts is an aching read that will settle in your bones and wrap itself around your heart."Bitch Media
"Through the lens of loss and generational trauma, Chow develops a new form of contemplating the American family through three generations of her own Chinese-American family. The writer’s transition from journalism to memoir isn’t to be missed."Cultured
"A deeply moving exploration of grief."Marie Claire
"[A] deeply felt, indelibly moving memoir."Refinery29
"Seeing Ghosts spins memories and individuals into entire worlds. Its strength lies in how it traverses landscapes, physical and emotional, that plot different moments of Chow’s life and maps them for the reader. Chow spins her memories from herself, and they become something else entirely — haunting and beautiful reminders of the silences we keep stored in ourselves, and the ghosts they form when we begin to see."Asia Pacific Arts
"How do we know our mothers? This seemed to me to be what this powerful memoir brought into focus for me. From the narrow window we have of them from childhood, expanding outward as we grow older, and then after their death, when they cannot keep their secrets from us, including that also, the result is a prismatic vision of the mother in these pages, of Chow's mother, but all our mothers. This is a book that asks us to consider if we allow our mothers to be humanand ourselves, too. A daring, loving, searing debut."Alexander Chee, bestselling author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“Seeing Ghosts is truly beautiful. A balm. There is such a deep comfort in Kat Chow’s writing, in her remembrance of small things. It is a love song to loss, to family, to the power of writing things down and remembering.”Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning author of Red at the Bone
"With love and sorrow, Kat Chow's Seeing Ghosts takes up the daunting, difficult, essential task that falls to the children of immigrants—that of making visible the family histories that recede from us like a hazy shoreline, of pulling a lifeline out of the silence that compounds with acquiescence and loss and time. Uncertainty remains central and loss ineluctable, despite the doggedness and perspicacity of Chow’s efforts to uncover and recover; this might be the most human of all the truths in this beautiful, moving memoir.” Jia Tolentino, New York Times bestselling author of Trick Mirror
“I read Seeing Ghosts with a great sense of luck and relief that Kat Chow’s book shares the ground with the best memoirs: that they are the archeologists of memory, unearthing places we have wavered in going. Like all books that haunt us long after reading, Seeing Ghosts is a courageous act of excavation and salvage. It is also a feat of rescue and healing.”Ocean Vuong, New York Times bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
"In Seeing Ghosts, Kat Chow tells a story that is at once intimate and generous in its welcome, sifting through the legacy of a formative and profound loss in order to better understand her late mother, her family, and herself. This gorgeous, thoughtful memoir has much to offer, including the hard-won truth that sometimes, moving forward into an uncertain future requires us to revisit, remember, and attempt to unravel the traumas of our past."Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
"Seeing Ghosts is a reminder that love, loss, and hope glide hand in hand - in this book about family and its bonds, Kat Chow transforms the question of what it means to lose and still have love for the mysteries of this world. Chow’s writing is by turns resonant, hilarious, and meticulously researched, making dreams and feelings that are otherwise invisible potent and wholly tangible. Chow's scenes paint histories and emotions with the densest of feeling, as Seeing Ghosts guides us through how a life can be lived, who is left behind, and how we find ways to come together despite this. Kat Chow illustrates what it means when we’re bound to one another, excavating what we owe each other alongside what we owe ourselves. A delight and a miracle - the world is fuller, stranger, and brighter by this book’s presence." Bryan Washington, author of Memorial
Journalist Chow confronts the loss of her mother in a memoir that illustrates the way grief can become a fixture in one's life—grief for the lost loved one and for all that remains unspoken and elusive. Chow's mother was born in China and emigrated to the U.S. to attend college, where she met her husband. When Chow was growing up, a failed restaurant venture and an ever-present sense of financial precarity fueled her parents' frequent arguments. After her mother's death from cancer in 2004, her older siblings head to college, and Chow is left to forge a relationship with her reticent father. She becomes a kind of reservoir for her family, absorbing their pain, unresolved antagonisms, and memories both warm and haunting. Her memoir is a vivid portrait of her loving and flawed Chinese American family. The book is a tribute to Chow's spirited mother, but it's also a revealing portrait of three daughters trying to negotiate a complicated relationship with their father. VERDICT Chow's book is an important and welcome addition to a growing catalogue of memoirs by a new generation of Asian American writers, including Michelle Zauner's Crying in H Mart and Anna Qu's Made in China.—Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID
A Chinese American writer reflects on the profound loss of her mother to cancer and how it informed her adulthood.
The poignancy of journalist Chow’s debut memoir can be felt instantly when she confesses that she still struggles to comprehend her mother’s death in 2004 and finds herself often rushing to glimpse her memorial. The author, a founding member of NPR’s Code Switch team, considers herself unique in a traditional Chinese family that refused to openly grieve. As a loving tribute, Chow vibrantly tells the story of her mother’s life with great dexterity and in luminous detail. Born in China, Chow’s mother immigrated to America to attend college and ended up charming her father at a tag sale, which led to a problematic marriage riddled with bickering, unrest, and money problems. Honoring her family’s ghosts, the author also writes movingly about the crushing death of her brother just an hour after his premature birth, the steady decline of her mother’s health as cancer ravaged her, and how the early deaths of the women in her family gives her both pause and cause for concern. Chow fondly recalls how her mother looked while dressing in her closet for work each morning and “how our bodies were similar, that I was an extension of you.” Her mother hid internal aches she blamed on age but were later revealed as symptoms of her terminal disease. There is levity braided into the memories, as well: Chow’s mother telling her, at age 9, that she wanted to be stuffed after her death so she could “sit in your apartment and watch you all the time,” fun family road trips, and her mother’s penchant for practical jokes. By uniting family memories, elements of Chinese culture, and an intimate perspective, Chow wraps tragedy and history into an affecting memorial.
A powerful remembrance of a family unmoored by the loss of its matriarch.