A groundbreaking collage of epistles, mementos, poetry, and literary criticism ... In defining language as the nucleus for experience, Chang's innovative montage brings to mind Jorge Luis Borges' 'The Aleph'...where time and memory are converged as omniscient reality. While structurally complex, Dear Memory articulates grief's basic anxieties ... Chang's poignant anecdotes on motherhood, from her own experience and others', can be read as tangible ways to illustrate memory's paradoxes ... Chang's lyrical experiment memorably evokes an individual family's time capsule and an artist's timeless yearning to shape carbon dust into incandescent gem.
She applies a poet’s sensibility and an artistic eye to the details of her personal history in her memoir ... Though Chang’s memoir is written in letters, attaching itself to a plot with only the most delicate threads, what emerges is a picture of a woman searching for a way to use words and tangible forms to observe and reshape the world. The development of Chang’s literary philosophy is as important to her as how she views her parents or her memories of past relationships. Dear Memory is ontology as much as it is ontogeny. Each letter is composed of imagery, remembrances, and poetic aphorisms. Together the letters form a literary collage ... At times the mood of Chang’s work is distant or cold, yet it becomes clear that the author is acutely aware of this and of perception’s role when it comes to language ... Dear Memory relies on a vocabulary of poetic devices for its most resonant passages. Chang uses image, metaphor, and pithy reflection in these short paragraphs to give the reader mental pictures— or shapes—of the ineffable things she describes. Her syntax shows an awareness of the power of repetition or refrain. This fluid style allows the reader to envision the very specific nature of Chang’s anguish. Each sentence unspools elegantly into the next in text that is deceptively simple ... By accompanying her letters with visual collages overlaid with handwritten poetry, she suggests that the act of creating visual and literary forms is equally transformative for reader and creator alike.
These letters—addressed to unnamed family members, educators, friends, even to silence—may appear to be one-way communications, but the reader is carbon copied as confidant and silent recipient, enjoined to consider her own experiences of memory and loss ... these essays aren’t simply about grief. They are also an attempt to reframe one’s narrative—creating a bespoke suit of what one knows, doesn’t know, and can never know ... These letters to the past that are paving stones to the future is the verdant ground that Victoria Chang explores in these, dare I say, memorable essays.
... the various forms Chang chooses to use in her latest book struggle to give her ruminations and memories the structure they need ... Along with family photos, Chang shares marriage certificates, translated letters from cousins, even floor plans, though not all of these images have the same resonance. In fact, the cut-and-paste photos and documents are, in most cases, awkwardly juxtaposed with the text. There may be one clear point of connection between the image and the words — in that first collage, the phone that Chang notes is ringing is the phone hanging on the wall in the photograph — but these connections are either too literal or virtually nonexistent. Despite the intimacy of the images, they often still feel ornamental, included to imply history and depth without providing any new information or emotional ground that Chang doesn’t already explicitly cover in her letters ... And in those letters, Chang’s dogged adherence to form is admirable, but the epistolary format often suffocates the work. At times, her writing is as tender and precise as the form warrants ... But in most other cases, she addresses friends and acquaintances...indicative of how Chang uses these characters; they’re largely irrelevant, only necessary inasmuch as they serve as a buffer, or a bit of throat clearing, before she gets to the heart of her self-reflections ... There’s a palpable strain to Chang’s language here, which isn’t typical for the poet, who has established herself as a kind of Steinian modernist, using relentless repetition, rhyme, wordplay and contorted variations of the same basic syntax to both highlight the vital importance of language and render it irrelevant ... It’s hard to find resolution in these pieces, which is mostly fine until the work fumbles to whittle down the general — those vast abstractions like memory, silence and history, all of which she addresses in Dear Memory — into an autobiographical reckoning ... the metaphors topple into one another like dominoes, getting in the way of the history — or vice versa ... Despite Chang’s moments of lyric beauty, this is the trap she falls into. For as much as Chang wants to get personal with her parents’ history, her grief and her relationship to or disconnect from Chinese American culture, the language and structure sets her at a cool intellectual distance. Because one may try to speak intimately with Memory, but Memory may not necessarily speak back.
If Obit sought a container for loss, Dear Memory is a messier formal experiment, an open-ended inquiry not of a bounded life but of an ongoing present, full of longing and imperfection ... Chang has followed language to the edge of what she knows; the question her book asks is whether language can go further still, whether it can be trusted to secure a safe landing for that dangling preposition ... Where the letters in the book are searching and digressive, written without expectation of an answer, the interview is a formal, real-time exchange ... In one of their conversation’s most wrenching moments, Chang’s mother recalls a memory from her journey to Taiwan ... The simple story haunts the book, revealing a latent truth of these letters: between parents and children, there is always some radical gap—one that we must live with, and in. A child may feel as though the hand she holds will never let go; a mother may think that the child is 'hers.' Neither is right. The connection between them is an invention, an experimental grammar. We make it up as we go.
... comprises words and illustrations that illuminate Chang's path back into time. In a series of letters addressed to those who play a part in her memories, she explores with tenderness and compassion the ways that all of us construct our stories of what lies both in our family's past and in our own lives ... The letters that she writes to people from her past show readers how much of what we call 'memory' are the stories we tell ourselves and others, how we make narratives of sense impressions and snatches of remembered conversations. The photo collages she assembles gesture toward the ways we create our pasts ... the work of a gifted poet, a wordsmith who is conscious that absent a chance to be an eyewitness to the past, we are left to spin our own webs of emotional significance and nostalgia.
Chang brings a poet’s lyricism to considering grief and memory in this powerful collection of letters. Mixing official documents, handwritten notes, photographs, and correspondence, she creates a moving consideration of ancestry and loss ... As Chang recounts the death of her mother and what it means to remember, her prose is sharp and strong and her creativity shines in her incorporation of the collage-like visual elements, which add depth. Fans of Chang’s poetry will be delighted.
Chang continues to find new ways to plumb her experiences on the page ... Depending on what one brings to this book, each reader may find their own moment of goosebumps or tears ... This book is moving in a way that transcends story and message; it captures a pure sense of another person's heart.