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.
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.