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Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir

by Kat Chow

Unabridged — 9 hours, 54 minutes

Kat Chow
Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir

by Kat Chow

Unabridged — 9 hours, 54 minutes

Kat Chow

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For readers of Helen Macdonald and Elizabeth Alexander, an intimate and haunting portrait of grief and the search for meaning from a singular new talent as told through the prism of three generations of her Chinese American family.

Kat Chow has always been unusually fixated on death. She worried constantly about her parents dying---especially her mother. A vivacious and mischievous woman, Kat's mother made a morbid joke that would haunt her for years to come: when she died, she'd like to be stuffed and displayed in Kat's future apartment in order to always watch over her. 

After her mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, Kat, her sisters, and their father are plunged into a debilitating, lonely grief. With a distinct voice that is wry and heartfelt, Kat weaves together a story of the fallout of grief that follows her extended family as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America. Seeing Ghosts asks what it means to reclaim and tell your family's story: Is writing an exorcism or is it its own form of preservation? The result is an extraordinary new contribution to the literature of the American family, and a provocative and transformative meditation on who we become facing loss.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


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

"[U]ndeniably one of the best books you will read this year. . .  Chow has mastered the ability to voice the painful fallout of loss in all its excruciating detail, capturing the essence of how grief feels with each event along the way, no matter how small."—The Nerd Daily

"[Seeing Ghosts] could be such a heavy story, but it's got this marvelous mix of poetry and dry humor. . . The memoir is just so heartfelt, gorgeously written and rich in detail."—Here and Now

"A beautifully introspective reckoning with death."—South China Morning Post

"Chow’s memoir takes the reader on a journey from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America. She reclaims her family’s history—and her own—through this masterpiece of experience."—SheReads

Library Journal


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

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940172283598
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Edition description: Unabridged

Customer Reviews