The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

Metropolitan: Holt. May 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781627794947. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781627794954. MEMOIR
OrangeReviewStarYang (The Latehomecomer) returns with another stellar memoir about family. In the Hmong tradition, the author's father Bee is a song poet, famous for his ability to evoke vivid emotions, imagery, and parallel worlds through his songs. Yang takes us back to the mountains of Laos, to her father's birth and childhood, through the years of the French occupation, and finally to the turbulent war that led to the family fleeing through the jungle to a refugee camp in Thailand. Through a refugee resettlement program, the family ultimately lands in St. Paul, MN. Yang writes first in the voice of her father, a man with immense poetic talent but who is not literate in the conventional sense. The second part of the book is written in her own voice, that of a woman learning to find words in both the language of her heritage and of her adopted country. These two voices balance each other, and the result captures the raw emotions of grief, joy, fear, and love.
VERDICT Yang powerfully demonstrates that much of what society doesn't hold valuable—gifts and talents that don't translate into monetary or educational success—still carry immense value, if only we choose to see it.

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