Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Memoir

by Jane Wong

Pub Date: May 16th, 2023
ISBN: 9781953534675
Publisher: Tin House

A poet’s memoir about her working-class childhood, writing career, family, and Asian American identity.

Despite the fact that Wong’s father gambled away the family's Chinese restaurant in New Jersey when she was still quite young, the feeling of being a "restaurant baby" is central to this book. "I am that person who thinks that the compost bin is beautiful, in all its swirls of color (jade mold, chocolate slime—why is no one hiring me to name nail polish?), surprising texture, and piquant death,” she writes. After her father lost the restaurant and left the family, her mother became a postal worker, sorting mail overnight into and through the pandemic. If there is a single topic that unifies the book, it's her mother. A series of passages labeled “” imagines that her mother's wisdom might be available online, including things like her take on an "ancient Chinese saying”—“If you can’t crawl, swim. If you can’t swim, then take the bus.” Wong's sharp sense of humor is fueled by a healthy dose of righteous anger, and her lyric energy bursts from almost every sentence. In the chapter titled "Bad Bildungsroman With Table Tennis,” she writes, "Part of being a teenager is the desire to destroy something. To break something apart so fully, you can see its pulled seams, its tangled organs. At 13, I felt this feeling churn within me, this rage, this pim­ple-popping lusciousness of rudeness, this gleaming desire for sudden destruction." She writes candidly about her shoplifting phase, her misery at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and her disgust for bigotry and cultural appropriation. A good portion of the book focuses on finding her confidence as an Asian American poet, including the glorious moment when she was recognized with a big grant and a museum show. For this profoundly unsqueamish writer, poetry is "interior slime spicy along our tongues" and "chicken grease congealing behind my ear."

A generous, steaming stew of a book loaded with personality and originality and sprinkled with the fiery chili of rage.