cover image The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

Kao Kalia Yang. Metropolitan, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-62779-494-7

In this beautifully-written memoir, Yang (The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir) tells the story of her father, a poet who composed kwv txhiaj in his native Hmong. These songs, she says, taught her how the human heart operates, shielded her from poverty, and showed her windows where she had only ever seen walls. Yang pitches the story as a narrative of how a song poet came to be, from his childhood in Laos, to his flight to America as young adult, to his life there as the father of many. Surprisingly, however, she hardly provides any songs at all, or shows any interest in them after the book’s introductory pitch. There’s no mention of songs created by the child in Laos who might have first experimented with words as he played with his brother, nor by the father who might have used his songs to teach his children what it means to be an immigrant and factory worker. That aside, the story is engrossing as a straight-up narrative of this spirited man’s life. The daughter’s love for her father is described in words as gorgeous as those that (she assures us) the song poet often spoke. (Apr.)