Cover Image: Seeing Ghosts

Seeing Ghosts

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Member Reviews

Seeing Ghosts is a moving memoir, a letter to author Kat Chow's mother remember her life and life after her death. I highly recommend this book!
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Calling all fans of Crying in H-Mart and Beautiful Country — here’s a third book to round out what I consider Asian American memoir trifecta. #AAPIMonth

I listened to #SeeingGhosts by Kat Chow and it is such a beautiful book about the author’s Chinese American upbringing, the loss of her mother, and taking care of her increasingly worrisome remaining parent.

For me, Chow’s writing really stands out in its ability to unsettle the reader instantly. She writes of how her mother said once that she wanted to be taxidermied when she dies, and that one sentiment stuck with Chow as she grieved and grew up without her real life mom in the picture. Instead, she imagined this stuffed version of her commentating on her life and decisions.

So yeah, kind of morbid? But reading the book it’s so apparently that Chow is using the memoir as her own way to heal and grieve all these years later, and I completely appreciate that — morbidity or not.

I realize this probably isn’t a book for everyone, but I encourage everyone to pick up a book written by an #AAPI author this month — and all months, while you’re at it!
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I loved how dreamlike this memoir was. I've read a lot of memoirs about death recently and was worried about this being "too similar," or comparing it in my head to others I'd read. Kat Chow's writing is like watercolors... A little blurry, abstract. I was immediately hooked on the parallel narratives of Kat's mother and grandmother. This book is a testament to motherhood and womanhood, yes, — but also to fatherhood and masculinity amid grief. Kat's relationship with her father, and how she writes about it, leaves the reader wanting more. I'm desperate to know what her father doesn't say, what he keeps inward.
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Kat is haunted by her mother. Not literally, but her memory is a part of her every day life. She remembers how, when she was younger, her mother had once joked that she should be taxidermied after she dies. It is an image that terrified Kat and she can’t seem to let it go. Seeing Ghosts is about the author growing up with her family, balancing her life with the Chinese traditions her father continues to hold on to, and how her family changes after her mother dies from cancer. It was a heartfelt story that almost felt confessional - the author isn’t afraid to talk about things that other families may be ashamed of and I almost wonder how her family reacted to her story. After her mother passes, Kat lives with her father, who is a stubborn man who makes poor financial decisions and doesn’t seem to know how to take care of either of them. But you know that they love each other and, despite the age difference between Kat and her sisters, they are a huge support network for each other. Her mother sounded like a funny woman and you feel the pain of her loss. The book isn’t exactly what I had expected, but it was still enjoyable.
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Such a heartfelt book about love, hope, immigration and more. What a harrowing story about over coming and continuing to move on. I found such a deep connection to the story and what it means to travel through the grief
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A very well written book about the way grief changes people and their relationships with each other, and also how you grow past that to create new ways of understanding each other. The central ghost of the book is Kat's mother, who passes away when Kat is very young, but there are of course other ghosts also explored in this book including Kat's grandfather and his story. Overall, while the summary seems very similar to another popular books written by an Asian American woman author who lost their mother (Crying in Hmart) this book has a very different vibe with a different lens.
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This is the memoir of an American-born Chinese woman who lost her mother when she was young. Much of the book is written to the mother, and it also talks a lot about her relationship with her father and her sisters after her mother's death, and her family history dating back to when and why they left Hong Kong. The audiobook is narrated by the author, so I recommend consuming this one via audio.
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3.5 stars 

I felt like this book was everything Crying in H Mart was trying to be. Where Crying in H Mart missed the mark, Seeing Ghosts delivered much better.

Still, it wasn't as captivating as I had hoped it would be. I related to it way more than Crying in H Mart, but I still didn't relate to it like you think I would have considering I am a motherless daughter as well. The emotional aspect just wasn't there for me.
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Kat Chow's memoir is so beautifully written, so raw and unexpected. I enjoyed how she not only told her own story, about how she felt during her mother's last days and after, how she reckons with her father's idiosyncracies and neglect, but she also goes back to tell her parents' stories, too, from their upbringings in China to their adulthood in the U.S. Kat writes tenderly but honestly, not shying away from the difficulties of her relationships with her parents and their family history. Highly recommend for fans of CRYING IN H-MART by Michelle Zauner, which was impossible for me not to think about as I read Kat's book.
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My take: I took my time with writing this reflection for SEEING GHOSTS - it’s one of those books where words can’t do it justice. 

At first glance, SEEING GHOSTS is about loss and grief, as Chow reflects on the loss of her mother to cancer. We’re blessed with her childhood memories of her mother - but also memories of her struggle to acknowledge and heal from the loss of her mother.

“It perplexed me then how grief could still be there like that, injected into my body as if some preserving agent, indistinguishable from my insides.”

Yet SEEING GHOSTS is so much more. In this memoir, Chow reclaims her family history marked by migration and displacement - from China to Hong Kong, America, and Cuba - against the backdrop of civil wars and government policies, beginning with the Kuomintang-Communist Civil War.  

“I am struck by how few details my father knows about his parents, in their lives and in their deaths. And how for so many years, I have been this way, too.”

As my Dad only recently opened up about his experience growing up with mixed heritage, his life in America, and his father’s immigration from China, this book came at the right time - and I’m grateful.

Ultimately, SEEING GHOSTS is a beautiful, thought-provoking memoir that reeled me in because of: (a) the immediate parallels I could draw with my own family history: My ancestors who immigrated from China. Parents who instilled in me that my dreams could be fulfilled if I worked hard enough. This excerpt especially - “He was always anticipating the worst; always hearing the worst; always remembering the worst. It is an inheritance I do not want. I want to go back into my father’s memory with him. I would convince him to enjoy his first snow.” But also because of: (b) the differences: reading about Chow's relationship with her sisters felt like a celebration of life and love in all its glory.
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I’ve been a fan of Kat Chow’s for years so as soon as I heard about her memoir I knew I needed it. Warning: Have tissues in hand while reading this. Chow's writing is beautiful, raw, and emanates love. This memoir about her relationship with her mother is an emotional read, especially if the reader can relate to any aspects of Chow's story. A book about life and death, love and loss, mothers and daughters. A great pairing with Crying in H Mart.
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Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of Kat Chow’s memoir, Seeing Ghosts, in exchange for an honest review.

The youngest of three daughters, Kat Chow was in middle school when her mom passed away from cancer. Her mother’s illness was diagnosed late, and although her mom may have been ill for a long time, the loss seemed sudden and unexpected. After the loss of her beloved mother, Kat struggled through her grief, especially as her older sisters move out of the family home and Kat is left with her father.

Kat’s relationship with her father is fraught and difficult, made even more challenging by her father’s money troubles and his own childhood trauma, including losing his father at a young age. 

Seeing Ghosts was a very emotional read for me. I lost my mom to cancer back in 2008. Reading through Chow’s own experience brought back a flood of emotions, and especially during the first half of the memoir, I was a sobbing mess. I was crying so much, that I had to take breaks. That said, Chow’s beautiful writing and raw emotions were very cathartic for me. 

The second half of Seeing Ghosts explores Chow’s father’s background and his search to find the remains of his father. Chow was born in the United States, but her parent’s immigrated from China via Hong Kong. When her father was a child, his father left Asia to find work in Cuba, and ended up dying in Cuba, separated from his wife and infant son. Chow’s grandfather’s body was never repatriated and it has been her father’s life long quest to find his father’s bones, a story that finds a happy resolution in the final chapters of the Seeing Ghosts. 

Although my family story is very different, I could find a connection to Chow’s family through the themes of how we struggle to understand the traumas of previous generations and how many people have a desperate need to connect with their ancestry. When visiting Cuba, Chow’s father holds a glimmer of hope from gossip that his father had an affair, hoping that he might have a living half-sibling. I’m an only child, with no close living relatives, and I have to admit that I too have a similar hope. I feel that there are many people out in the world looking for connections and Seeing Ghosts is a memoir about connecting, both to our past and with those still living. 

Chow’s father is a bit of a hoarder, a problem that increases after his wife dies. This is a a major area of stress and worry for Chow and her sisters, but the problem also reveals an important aspect of her father’s personality. He has experienced so much uncertainty and loss in his life, that the objects allow him to have a sense of control and peace. I saw a similar behavior in family members who were alive during the Great Depression and WW2. 

I also must mention the tremendous amount of love in the Chow family. Chow’s mom did not hold back when showing affection towards her daughters, and that love has spilled over into the relationship between the sisters. Love is open and vibrant, shown through words, actions, and gifts. There is so much strength in their love, that it kept me hopeful, in even the darkest moments. 

Seeing Ghosts is a beautifully written and highly emotional memoir. It’s a fascinating look at the Chow family, but also a deeper story about the affects of leaving your homeland and figuring out your place in the world. It is about navigating the ephemeral and transitory nature of life.
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In her debut memoir Kat Chow tries to put the missing pieces of her family’s life in place. Liver cancer killed Chow’s mother when Chow was 14 years old, and an incident early in childhood where her mother made a silly Dracula face and told 9-year-old Chow impacted Chow. “I want you to get me stuffed so I can sit in your apartment and watch you all the time.” And it seems that her mother does watch her. Chow has many conversations with her mother trying to put the pieces together. The mother seemed to be the heart of the family. After his wife’s death, Chow’s father seemed to let the three daughters steer the family. Near the end of the book, there are family trips to China and Cuba as she continues to flesh out the family stories she has heard. It is through storytelling that Chow is able to keep her mother alive in her mind.
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It’s taken me forever to write this because this book hit me so freaking hard and I might have to write another still. There’s so much to unpack in this book and I’ve been finding it so hard to put into words just how much this book affected me—it’s also weird to say how much you LOVED and ENJOYED a book about grief and loss, but wow, this one will stick with me forever. 

Last night, @katchow_ sat down with @chanel_miller (hulllo, DREAM DUO ANYONE?) to discuss the book and a part that really resonated with me was the pair discussing how Kat described her mother’s goofy & mischievous nature; which is different than how Asian mothers are typically portrayed and this really reminded me of my mom.

If you’ve been here for a while, you know that I’m the kind of person who will cry over a commercial but have only cried in ONE book before (hi Namesake) but, I cried in this one, put it down for a bit, and called my mom (who didn’t answer ASAP and then gave me a cheeky answer I think Kat and her mom would enjoy). I think that speaks volumes at how hauntingly beautiful Kat’s writing is and how deeply connected readers will feel reading her book. 

I highly recommend the audio if you love listening to authors reading their books as well, especially for the pronunciation of the Chinese words she shares.

This book might have hit me the way it did as I saw the similarities between Kat’s mother-daughter relationship in my own (the Cantonese words likely played a bit part in that, see comments for a few translations to enhance your reading), but will also truly resonate with anyone. This has been added to my list of fave memoirs. 

On that note, there’s a small passage that I’ll end this review on—re: Kat’s dad discussing how he missed his wife taking care of him (i.e., cutting her fruit for dessert, page 294) and it might not mean much to all, but I’m leaving it here because it really got me: 

“Almost anyone with a Chinese mother knows this small gesture usually means love.”
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This beautifully cutting and all too real novel about loss, grief and the bonds of family will have your emotions on overdrive. Exploring family grief and what that looks like and the poignant loss of a mother the way this book is told, its as if someone is telling a an old family story. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel.
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Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir, the first book from reporter and writer Kat Chow, is undeniably one of the best books you will read this year. Not one of the best nonfiction new releases, not one of the best memoirs; but one of the best books, period. And here’s why …

Loss is a hard thing to read about, an even more difficult thing to write about, and crippling to endure. Chow, however, has an extraordinary ability to put her own personal experiences with grief into words. In Seeing Ghosts, she reflects on the loss of her mother to cancer, while also more broadly examining multigenerational grief throughout her lineage. Digging back into her family history, Chow shares everything from the death of her brother hours after he was born to her mother’s loss of her own mother at age 4. She examines the experiences of family members immigrating to Cuba and the U.S. from China, then relays her own travels to these countries alongside her father as he pursued closure for his own past.

First and foremost, the lens through which Chow sees and shares her mother with the reader is powerfully raw, emotional and real in a way few books are. Her writing will gut you from the very first page, the crisp clarity of her memories providing such detail you will feel as if you were there also. For instance: the unforgettable conversation where her mother once asked to be stuffed, taxidermised if you will, upon her death so she could watch over her daughter even after she was gone. Chow has mastered the ability to voice the painful fallout of loss in all its excruciating detail, capturing the essence of how grief feels with each event along the way, no matter how small. Take for example the well-meaning platitudes offered by others in the early days of loss which only prickled and drew pain, or the moment she realised the sound of her mother’s voice was beginning to slip away in her mind.

Without a doubt Chow conveys how much a mother, both in life and death, shapes a daughter; how inexplicably large her mother’s love looms over the lives she left behind. But she also touches on so much more in these pages. She honestly ruminates on her relationship with her father and her sisters, reflects back upon her parents’ difficult-to-understand marriage. She shares the influence of her familial and cultural beliefs on the family as a whole and on each of them individually. She relays experiences of racism and discrimination, and also criticises how the broken healthcare system in America erects barriers to even those who have health insurance as they are seeking care. And she bravely reveals the “what ifs” which have plagued her for years, the thoughts of how her mother might have been saved if only something else had happened here or someone had done something differently there.

There is something so approachable, so entirely relatable and heartrending, about the stories shared in Seeing Ghosts. The natural flow of the book, as Chow shares piece by piece without following a chronological order, mirrors how memories come and go at random in one’s mind, making it easy to lose yourself within the pages. She also effortlessly captures the many ways grief manifests, the ways we approach and avoid it, the ways it changes and shapes us all. There’s even a bit of hope in the notions that those we’ve lost remain all around us — they continue to express themselves in the traits we’ve inherited through genetics and learned behaviour, in the objects around us, and in our memories, long after their physical bodies are gone.

Chow shares her fear of writing specifically about her mother’s death, her struggle with “exorcising” versus memorialising her mother. But there’s something to say for writing about loss to work through your feelings. Something about how laying one’s grief down on paper gives shape and gravity to the barrage of formless emotions which float around inside the mind. And ultimately, Seeing Ghosts seems to do exactly what Chow’s mother wished for when she requested to be stuffed after her death: it preserves her in a physical form, as well as in the mind and heart, for all the years to come.

I’ve done my best to put the experience of reading this book into words, but all the words in the world will simply fall short. Seeing Ghosts is truly a reading experience you need to feel for yourself.
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Included as a top pick in bimonthly August New Releases post, which highlights and promotes upcoming releases of the month (link attached)
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EXCERPT: "Chow’s debut memoir Seeing Ghosts narrates the stories of ghosts as they dwell in our consciousness of them, uncovering three generations of family history by carefully examining intergenerational grief." 

Full review published in Asia Pacific Arts Magazine online.
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I’ve come to look forward to all of Kat Chow’s journalism, and was eagerly awaiting the chance to read her book. It did not disappoint. The same long-form storytelling that makes her journalism is combined was a beautiful lyricism throughout. Kat Chow’s work is so apt for this time of such profound loss.
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I don't want to go into too much detail about this memoir because I don't want to spoil it, but it is a must-read. I felt like I was walking through a house that's haunted in a good way. You can tell there's sadness here, but there were good times here as well. Kat Chow is a beautiful, descriptive yet precise writer. Her relationship with her father really pulled me in, especially as someone raised by her mother after a divorce and seeing a different side of a a father-daughter relationship. Such a good book.
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