Reviewed by Ashley Supinski
Victoria Chang is an accomplished writer. Her long list of awards and honors is a testament to her versatility as a poet and writer. Her latest memoir, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief (Milkweed Editions, 2021) continues to showcase her artistic talent through a combination of letters and found art, in which she reflects on her heritage, her upbringing, and her grief.
In a series of letters to anonymous readers, Chang explores the importance of memory and the role it plays in our lives. She opens the memoir with a letter to her mother: “Dear Mother, I have so many questions.” Here, Chang establishes the basis for the memoir; she wants to know her family’s history, but her mother has since passed and can no longer share it with her daughter. Throughout the letters, especially to relatives, she questions their histories. She wants to know where she is from and who she is as a Chinese-American.
To continue her questions, her second letter, “Dear Silence,” speaks directly to both her mother’s and her own inability to speak. She recounts how her own voice was lost in the “loud language” everywhere in her home. This letter also sets up the themes explored in the rest of the memoir: her desire to find herself, to embrace her history, and to find her voice.
Other letters shared in the book include those to teachers who had an impact on her and shaped her path to finding her voice and becoming a writer. She also speaks to her daughters, writing things she is unable to say to them out loud so that she can share her history and where they come from. Finally, she ends with a letter to the reader about the importance of memories and sharing those memories with the world around you.
Throughout the letters, Chang embeds relevant quotes and thoughts from other writers. She shares their wisdom as she tries to understand it herself.
Interspersed throughout, Chang includes found art. She has taken photographs of her family or ephemera and added poetry to the frame. After a letter to her father’s employer, the Ford Motor Company, she includes a letter he received congratulating him on perfect work attendance. Over the letter, she included a picture of her father at work and a poem dedicated to him.
Dear Memory is a beautiful, heart-breaking read through Chang’s perspective as she tries to define her own memories and better embrace things she’ll never know, like her mother’s childhood. Throughout, she reflects on the importance of memories in writing and grief. This book is a recommended read for anyone who’s suffered the loss of a parent, questioned their heritage, and fought to preserve memories.