Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang

“Maybe our desire for the past grows after the decay of our present.”

Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief is a deeply affecting work that struck me for its beauty and empathy. Victoria Chang’s lyrical writing is not only aesthetically pleasing but it demonstrates admirable emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and insight. Not only I found myself highlighting every-other sentence, but I was completely spellbound by Chang’s voice and her ability to articulate with precise yet poetic language thoughts, feelings, and things that are, to me at least, so difficult to express/address. Enriching her reflections are her and her family’s experiences as well as the words of numerous writers, poets, and activists. The many quotes that make their way into Chang’s letters added further depth and nuance to her own remembrances and observations. Family mementoes, such as photos, letters, postcards, and certificates are interspersed throughout Dear Memory, and often appear in a fragmented way or combined with Chang’s own poetry, resulting in a collage of sorts.

“Maybe all of our memories are tied to the memories of others.”

Within these letters—addressed to Chang’s grandparents, parents, and children, as well as a teacher, her body, and memory itself—Chang interrogates grief, language and silence, generational trauma, cultural dissonance, displacement, invisibility, the notion of belonging, poetry & creativity, her Chinese American identity and her relationship to her family. Many of the episodes and histories that inform her reflections appear to us in fragments, so that we often ‘only’ gain brief and incomplete glimpses into her family’s and her own experiences. This works really well stylistically as the letters never feel bogged down by too many dates & facts. Within these letters, Chang’s voice possesses a beautiful lightness that in many ways belies her subject matter, as Chang discusses death, ageing, and trauma. She also talks about her experiences with racism, how many of the offensive words and gestures were very much normalized in American media and classic literature, as well as her eating disorder.

“In some ways, being born Chinese in America means not being born at all”

Regret & longing permeate most of these letters, as Chang is writing to people who are no longer alive or able to find meaning in her words. But Chang never spirals into hopelessness, and her lyrical language mitigates the sorrow of her and her family’s experiences. There is an open-endedness to her enquiries and recollections, one that invites the reader to contribute to the discussion, and I really appreciated that.

“A writer lives in an infinity of days, time without end, ploughed under.”

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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