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The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

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From the author of The Latehomecomer, a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in America In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and r From the author of The Latehomecomer, a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in America In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Following her award-winning book The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang now retells the life of her father Bee Yang, the song poet, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by America's Secret War. Bee lost his father as a young boy and keenly felt his orphanhood. He would wander from one neighbor to the next, collecting the things they said to each other, whispering the words to himself at night until, one day, a song was born. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee's mother, the songs leave him for good. But before they do, Bee, with his poetry, has polished a life of poverty for his children, burnished their grim reality so that they might shine. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Kao Kalia Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story -- of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost.


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From the author of The Latehomecomer, a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in America In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and r From the author of The Latehomecomer, a powerful memoir of her father, a Hmong song poet who sacrificed his gift for his children's future in America In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Following her award-winning book The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang now retells the life of her father Bee Yang, the song poet, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by America's Secret War. Bee lost his father as a young boy and keenly felt his orphanhood. He would wander from one neighbor to the next, collecting the things they said to each other, whispering the words to himself at night until, one day, a song was born. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee's mother, the songs leave him for good. But before they do, Bee, with his poetry, has polished a life of poverty for his children, burnished their grim reality so that they might shine. Written with the exquisite beauty for which Kao Kalia Yang is renowned, The Song Poet is a love story -- of a daughter for her father, a father for his children, a people for their land, their traditions, and all that they have lost.

30 review for The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Creative non-fiction of the highest caliber, movingly told. This book isn't perfect and the beginning really did give me trouble and I was sometimes a bit confused, but I ended up totally, totally loving it. So I am giving it five stars. I loved it because it emotionally moved me. That is why it is getting five stars. I will tell you other things that I liked, but it is the empathy that I felt for the members of the author's family that is the reason for the five stars. I learned about the Hmong Creative non-fiction of the highest caliber, movingly told. This book isn't perfect and the beginning really did give me trouble and I was sometimes a bit confused, but I ended up totally, totally loving it. So I am giving it five stars. I loved it because it emotionally moved me. That is why it is getting five stars. I will tell you other things that I liked, but it is the empathy that I felt for the members of the author's family that is the reason for the five stars. I learned about the Hmong people - their cultural traditions, their role in the war when the Americans took over after the French in Laos and the subsequent Hmong genocide after Communist takeover in 1975. History cannot be seen as anything but riveting when told through one family's experiences. World events become personal events. Eight years in a Thailand refugee camp and then discrimination as an immigrant in the US. The book continues and shows us what happens when the family try to revisit Laos in 2009. This book is about the author’s father, a song poet of the Hmong tradition. The language is spoken, not written. It is his second daughter, the author, who now tells his stories in English for others to hear. Stories about his family, his youth in Laos, his marriage and his love for his wife and children and the sufferings they share. Six miscarriages! What we are told is personal, heartrending and touching. He had two dogs that he loved….which had to be left in the Thailand refugee camp. What happens when education becomes a generational divide within a family? We see life of a poor uneducated immigrant in America still today. I was at times confused, not knowing who was speaking. Much is told in the first person narrative; I was unsure at times who the “I” speaking was. The father, the author or someone else? My confusion seldom lasted more than a few minutes, so it was forgiven and forgotten. I listened to the audiobook; perhaps this problem doesn’t occur when you read the paper book. The audiobook is narrated by the author. The beginning was terrible – too fast and too monotone. Words spoken were indistinct. The monotone of the beginning portions is annoying. Not until quite far into the book did the author’s emotions begin to shine through. Shine is the wrong word. At points she almost wept with sorrow. When she exposed herself, laid herself bare, the narration was fantastic, and so I could forgive all the rest. I gave the narration four stars; it could have been better, but I am not sure another person could have read it with such feeling….when she dared show it. Rather than chapters, there are “tracks”, which had me questioning if perhaps she had based parts on her father’s oral accounts. This is a book that should be read. It speaks of racial discrimination that persists till today. It will move you emotionally and make you aware of others’ life circumstances and problems. Curious about Hmong culture? Read this too: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

  2. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    A "Song Poet" in Laos is a person who sings songs about his family, his village and his country. This is a story of a Hmong refugee living in Minnesota and the songs he sings from memory. He sings of Laos before "the iron birds that dropped balls of fire from the sky." This is a story of tragedy and loss. "I loved you during our sixth miscarriage..."(during an eleven year stay in a Thailand refugee camp). The author has written this book out of love for her father. This book started slow, but once A "Song Poet" in Laos is a person who sings songs about his family, his village and his country. This is a story of a Hmong refugee living in Minnesota and the songs he sings from memory. He sings of Laos before "the iron birds that dropped balls of fire from the sky." This is a story of tragedy and loss. "I loved you during our sixth miscarriage..."(during an eleven year stay in a Thailand refugee camp). The author has written this book out of love for her father. This book started slow, but once I was a third of the way in, I was immersed in the stories and culture of the Hmong people and it went very fast. This book is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I want to thank the publisher for sending me this book through LibraryThing in return for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Petra

    A lovely memoir of a family. The trials and challenges of their lives, both in their homeland and their adopted land, was enlightening. The strength and love of this family was visible on each page. The love song the father wrote for his wife was beautiful. This story also showed the heavy isolation of losing one's words ability to communicate causes. This is a heartfelt story and a wonderful memoir. The writing is poetic and lovely. I listened to the audio, which was perhaps a bit monotone, and A lovely memoir of a family. The trials and challenges of their lives, both in their homeland and their adopted land, was enlightening. The strength and love of this family was visible on each page. The love song the father wrote for his wife was beautiful. This story also showed the heavy isolation of losing one's words ability to communicate causes. This is a heartfelt story and a wonderful memoir. The writing is poetic and lovely. I listened to the audio, which was perhaps a bit monotone, and enjoyed the author's memories and thoughts.

  4. 4 out of 5

    El

    This is an unusual memoir - not only does Kao Kalia Yang tell her own story, but she also tells the story of her family told from her father's perspective. She tells his story as a young man living in Laos, his subsequent escape from Laos, and of raising his family as Hmong refugees in Minnesota. Beautifully written, sad stories, and eye-opening into how refugees are continued to be treated in America. Official review here. This is an unusual memoir - not only does Kao Kalia Yang tell her own story, but she also tells the story of her family told from her father's perspective. She tells his story as a young man living in Laos, his subsequent escape from Laos, and of raising his family as Hmong refugees in Minnesota. Beautifully written, sad stories, and eye-opening into how refugees are continued to be treated in America. Official review here.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Linnemann

    If you live in Minnesota - this is most definitely a must-read. There were so many points in this book where my heart broke, where I became angry at the systems set in place to oppress and maintain oppression. The streets, schools, and context is all familiar to me, living in St. Paul and working on the East Side. I am looking forward to reading The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir next.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    10 stars. This memoir is a gift. It is a treasure. It is filled with insight and words of wisdom lived by and through the Hmong Song Poet and father of Ms. Yang, Bee Yang (born in 1958), and her mother, Chue Moua. The Yang family immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1987 as refugees coming from a Thai refugee camp. The memoir is filled with stories of Bee growing up as a boy in the Xieng Khouang Province, Laos, the refugee camp in Thailand, and working as a blue collar factory employee in St. Pa 10 stars. This memoir is a gift. It is a treasure. It is filled with insight and words of wisdom lived by and through the Hmong Song Poet and father of Ms. Yang, Bee Yang (born in 1958), and her mother, Chue Moua. The Yang family immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1987 as refugees coming from a Thai refugee camp. The memoir is filled with stories of Bee growing up as a boy in the Xieng Khouang Province, Laos, the refugee camp in Thailand, and working as a blue collar factory employee in St. Paul. Through Bee's stories and Kalia's experiences, they share the challenges of the family's assimilation into America, the bitter cold Minnesota winters, their substandard 900 square foot home, the pursuit of education for their children to become lawyers and doctors and their receiving advanced educations at Hamline University and Carleton College, their facing isolation and discrimination, and their rich community among other Hmong immigrants. As a native of Minnesota, I was appalled to read of the terrible working conditions and blatant racism Bee and other Hmong employees encountered in the workplace by supervisors and peers. Shameful behavior by the white men and unacceptable tolerance by management who should have been instilling an inclusive environment. I have no doubt the Hmong employees were the better employees and were out working the native born Americans. I grew up around boys who became these mean spirited men. This is an intimate journal of a family filled with love, hope, dreams, hardships, failures, and successes. Beautifully written. "Like the eggs hatched upon the same rest, they huddle to themselves and call out for the same feathery bed. The future takes us to the same place, our hearts close to the same space...where once our mothers and our fathers held us close, and made us safe." "In my songs, my brothers and sisters, family and friends, felt the fall of their own hot tears come down their cheeks. My songs allowed me and thise around me to feel our longing for those words that were impossible to live up to but unforgettable to hear, the promise of eternal care: "Do not be afraid. Everything will be all right. I will not let anything hurt you." "It has been many months now since I've known Xue. I love that boy. His tread is heavy on the earth, full of the weight of too much going on, but his hold is gentle, his step is firm; it does not dig into the surface of the earth, it turns the ground firm. Xue is a good man." "I think often about the wisdom of the Native American man and the words that he spoke: "I am sad to know that there are systems on earth, powerful and mighty systems, that can overlook the coolness of such a young man as Xue. What kind of world are we living in when a man's deeds-the goodness of Xue-cannot translate into a resume or a job? Xue was sent up to the reservation. Because he did not fit into the system. I question that system here and now." "He did not understand us at all. He did not know why men like us stayed at places like this. He did not know the way the human heart worked-at least, not ours. He didn't know that we had been thinking about our children all this time. We had not run through wars, waited in captivity, only to come to this country to work in such factories and have men like him yell at us and mistreat us year in and year out because we had not been thinking about our children. We had taught them we could survive, we had taught them how to work hard; we thought we were teaching them important lessons. Had we forgotten in our exhaustion to teach them what we were worth? What they were worth? We would bow no longer, bend our heads no more. We were thinking about our children. We were thinking about how we, their fathers and brothers, had to teach them that they were worth fighting for." http://www.startribune.com/hmong-writ...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    4.5 stars. There is a tradition among the Hmong people to have dedicated people to sing about their lives and history. It is a time honored tradition and not everyone is up for the challenge. In "The Song Poet," we meet Kalia and her father, a man who is a "song poet" among his people. His life is full of sorrow - he has a very tough life in war-torn Southeast Asia before coming to America and settling in Minnesota with his family, which presents another set of problems. Through it all, Bee Yang 4.5 stars. There is a tradition among the Hmong people to have dedicated people to sing about their lives and history. It is a time honored tradition and not everyone is up for the challenge. In "The Song Poet," we meet Kalia and her father, a man who is a "song poet" among his people. His life is full of sorrow - he has a very tough life in war-torn Southeast Asia before coming to America and settling in Minnesota with his family, which presents another set of problems. Through it all, Bee Yang is driven to provide for his wife and children. This is a powerful memoir that shows just how strong the human spirit is. Kalia Yang can definitely write. Her prose is gorgeous and the way she brings her father and the rest of her family to life is really fantastic. Her writing alone kept me reading. What makes this book really special, however, is Bee Yang's voice. We get to see his childhood and where he came from through his eyes. I did not know pretty much anything about the Hmong people prior to reading this book and found Bee's remembrances of all of the places he has been really interesting. This book grapples with a lot of difficult subjects that pulled me in. Having been born in the United States and having lived here my entire life, it is so hard for me to imagine leaving my country and trying to build a new life somewhere else. Seeing how Bee deals with this really pulled me in and seeing Kalia's remembrances as an immigrant growing up in the United States was great. I was not familiar with this author before reading this book but now I really want to go back and read her first book if the writing is anything like this book. Overall, this is a great memoir that pulled on my heart!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    When I was six, I befriended classmates that were newly arrived in Minnesota, and originally from Laos. Over the years, I learned bits of their histories, but not much. I was often welcomed into their homes, though, and treated as family. So I was looking forward to reading local author Kao Kalia Yang's memoir of her father, The Song Poet, as our next book club selection. While Yang's book is the story of her father's / family's experience, I imagine pieces are representative of that of many fami When I was six, I befriended classmates that were newly arrived in Minnesota, and originally from Laos. Over the years, I learned bits of their histories, but not much. I was often welcomed into their homes, though, and treated as family. So I was looking forward to reading local author Kao Kalia Yang's memoir of her father, The Song Poet, as our next book club selection. While Yang's book is the story of her father's / family's experience, I imagine pieces are representative of that of many families. Themes include family, leaving home, repeated loss, feeling otherness, sacrifice. It is a story filled with sorrow, but also strength. It is a story that will stay with me. (Yang's first book, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, won a Minnesota Book Award. I have not yet read it.) - - - Passage from Track 6, page 157: The problem of education had entered our lives. [...] No one had told us that education could change the way you felt about the world and the people in it, that it could give you words to use, and actions to take, not in support of those who love you but as a response to them, that education in America would make our father and mother less educated in our eyes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    CarolineFromConcord

    Extraordinarily beautiful and insightful book focused on the writer Kao Kalia Yang's father, who suffered lifelong deprivations to provide gifts like safety and education for her and her siblings -- and the gift of imaginative and poetic language. A Hmong refugee from Laos, he came from a poor but loving family who appreciated life and the beauty of the jungle mountains. They had to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand and put up with drug-running Thai soldiers for years. They fled Laos after sidi Extraordinarily beautiful and insightful book focused on the writer Kao Kalia Yang's father, who suffered lifelong deprivations to provide gifts like safety and education for her and her siblings -- and the gift of imaginative and poetic language. A Hmong refugee from Laos, he came from a poor but loving family who appreciated life and the beauty of the jungle mountains. They had to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand and put up with drug-running Thai soldiers for years. They fled Laos after siding with the US in America's Secret War. The Communist Pathet Lao won that war and began a campaign of genocide against the Hmong for their loyalty to the US forces. America eventually took in many Hmong refugees, relocating them mainly to California and Minnesota. Despite much sorrow in his life, or maybe because of it, Yang's father developed an ear for the words of comfort families offered one another. Imperceptibly, he began to turn what he heard into a kind of song poetry that moved the Hmong diaspora to silence and tears. This is the second book by the author of "Latehomecomer," an earlier take on her family's experience, interlaced with the legends she heard as a child of half-human tigers and other mysteries. Parts of this memoir are narrated in the voice of her father, parts in her own voice. Yang doesn't shy away from the difficulties of being transplants, the appalling treatment of factory and farm works who don't speak enough English and don't feel secure enough to challenge dangerous and debilitating working conditions and insults by supervisors or being the only workers given the hot dogs that fall on the ground at the company picnic. She doesn't shy away from the bullying her brother received in a suburban St. Paul, Minn., school or how it depressed her father, who perceived a failure to be the father he never had. She doesn't shy away from the way neighbors destroyed four mailboxes and how her parents always went to the hardware store the next day and put up stronger mailboxes. It is painful to know this about America, especially as the events described took place only a few years ago. I don't know if people who think refugees come here to rip off America and live the Life of Riley would ever pick up a book like this, but if they do, I am pretty sure it would begin to dawn on them that no one leaves a beloved homeland for a life like the one many refugees live here unless it is a question of life or death.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gayla Bassham

    I did not think this was going to be my kind of book, but I fell in love with it. In this memoir, Yang attempts to tell her father's story from many perspectives, including his own. It is elegantly and imaginatively written, and by the end I felt I knew Yang's family nearly as well as my own. I did not think this was going to be my kind of book, but I fell in love with it. In this memoir, Yang attempts to tell her father's story from many perspectives, including his own. It is elegantly and imaginatively written, and by the end I felt I knew Yang's family nearly as well as my own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    ck

    [ARC courtesy publisher via Amazon Vine program] The words "authentic" and "lyrical" are sadly overused by those of us lucky enough to be avid readers. How then to describe The Song Poet? "Melodic," "textured" and "enthralling" all would be accurate, but they would be merely a start. Kao Kalia Yang loves her father, and this book is her love song. She doesn't tell us why he is worthy of her love (and our respect). Instead, she shows us many of the facets of a complex man -- his dreams, his realit [ARC courtesy publisher via Amazon Vine program] The words "authentic" and "lyrical" are sadly overused by those of us lucky enough to be avid readers. How then to describe The Song Poet? "Melodic," "textured" and "enthralling" all would be accurate, but they would be merely a start. Kao Kalia Yang loves her father, and this book is her love song. She doesn't tell us why he is worthy of her love (and our respect). Instead, she shows us many of the facets of a complex man -- his dreams, his reality, his memories, and his choices -- and sculpts him whole and imperfect and human on the page. As I got to know her father, Bee Yang, my heart ached for his loneliness after his own father died, and again for him as a father who sought a stable, secure happiness for his children's youth and adulthood that he and his siblings did not have for themselves. (And yet his family had loyalty and love, and that sustained them and may well have been a touchstone for Bee many times.) If I say that Bee's aspirations were simple, that doesn't do them justice. Perhaps fundamental would be better. There are many starkly beautiful passages in this book. The adolescent and coming-of-age details about several of the children are of one type, evocative and resonant because the author is writing about herself and her siblings, and she has that general perspective. She renders these as the word versions of strong pen and ink drawings. By contrast, passages about her father's childhood, youth and adulthood are rendered no less beautifully and clearly, though she hints at the distance of time and place with a slight softening, sketching in charcoal if you'll bear with the extended analogy. These vignettes are even more elemental and evocative, and at times are hard to read because they ache, even at a distance. Challenges of the body, challenges of the heart, challenges of wanting more for one's children, and challenges of where one belongs, and of determining where "home" really is. Especially luminous are the passages that portray the loneliness and recollection of the part of himself that is the fatherless child he was -- and continues to be. This book has earned a place on my "na'au" shelf because of its honest, elemental, visceral force.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Oh my. I finally finished this last night. And I say finally only because it was as if I were going on a journey myself - from the jungles of Laos to the chilly winters of Minnesota. No one - and I mean no one - can paint a scene as evocatively as Kao Kalia Yang, or describe a feeling as well, so that you feel it in your gut and your heart. She is, without a doubt, one of the best writers going these days. So I sipped this slowly. In many books, the early years are either very hard or very idylli Oh my. I finally finished this last night. And I say finally only because it was as if I were going on a journey myself - from the jungles of Laos to the chilly winters of Minnesota. No one - and I mean no one - can paint a scene as evocatively as Kao Kalia Yang, or describe a feeling as well, so that you feel it in your gut and your heart. She is, without a doubt, one of the best writers going these days. So I sipped this slowly. In many books, the early years are either very hard or very idyllic. In this one, they are both. Yang's parents are thrust into something they never expected and have no control over - imagine being in a refugee camp for EIGHT YEARS. What they've overcome, and yet what they long for, are laid out in this beautiful work, told occasionally in alternating points of view. The book is laid out a little bit like an album, in that the chapters are Tracks and the end includes a Duet. But what I would really like - and this is a good indicator of the power of the book - is to hear that CD of Bee Yang singing his song poetry. If you are not familiar with Hmong culture, this book will give you a Master's degree (coupled with Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You). But more than a treatise on a culture, it is a lovely description of the relationship between a daughter and father, spelled out especially in the last chapter, Duet. Disclaimer: I know Kalia, as we travel in the same circles and I have followed her around since The Late Homecomer. I first saw her in 2009, when she brought a large auditorium to tears. Every time I saw her after that, I didn't think she would remember me, but she did. I saw her in 2010 when she won The Literary Death Match with a first chapter from this book. I saw her briefly at the spring bookseller meeting in Minneapolis (where I received a copy of this book) when she came to our table for speed dating and had us all tearing up (within five minutes). She doesn't make you cry because things are sad, she makes you cry because she is so passionate, so earnest, and so sincere. And so beautiful. SHE is a song poet!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a beautiful, unforgettable homage to the author's father, a Laotian refugee, but also to all the victims of persecution and genocide because you realize when reading it that it is unfortunately rather timeless and the same situation could be experienced today by other refugees. Her father, the song poet, has such dignity and is very endearing, but is reduced to such a sad state after being forced to flee his country. It's a bittersweet tale, with loss and grief, but also so much imaginat This is a beautiful, unforgettable homage to the author's father, a Laotian refugee, but also to all the victims of persecution and genocide because you realize when reading it that it is unfortunately rather timeless and the same situation could be experienced today by other refugees. Her father, the song poet, has such dignity and is very endearing, but is reduced to such a sad state after being forced to flee his country. It's a bittersweet tale, with loss and grief, but also so much imagination and such touching details. The only aspect that bothered me slightly was the changing narrator, sometimes the writer herself, sometimes her father.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Suzy

    This author's The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir was a reading highlight for me over the last few years. I feel blessed that she is a local author here in the Twin Cities and can't wait to see her at a book event and read this book. I hope she does an audio book again, the verbal storytelling matches the Hmong culture. See an article here, including a video of her father singing his poems. http://www.startribune.com/hmong-writ... This author's The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir was a reading highlight for me over the last few years. I feel blessed that she is a local author here in the Twin Cities and can't wait to see her at a book event and read this book. I hope she does an audio book again, the verbal storytelling matches the Hmong culture. See an article here, including a video of her father singing his poems. http://www.startribune.com/hmong-writ...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carol Sullivan

    Absolutely gorgeous writing. Such beauty and sadness woven artfully together.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ms. B

    Just as good as The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang continues telling the stories of her Hmong American family. This one alternates between her father's and her own stories. May she continue to find stories to write, stories that will touch all hearts. 1/12/20 The first time I read this I remember loving it because I leaned more about the family that Kao Kalia Yang introduces us to in The Latehomecomer. The second time I read it (The Song Poet), it broke my heart. Just as good as The Latehomecomer, Kao Kalia Yang continues telling the stories of her Hmong American family. This one alternates between her father's and her own stories. May she continue to find stories to write, stories that will touch all hearts. 1/12/20 The first time I read this I remember loving it because I leaned more about the family that Kao Kalia Yang introduces us to in The Latehomecomer. The second time I read it (The Song Poet), it broke my heart.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    Kao Kalia Yang's, "The Song Poet," is a thing of beauty. Thank-you to both Kalia and to her father, Bee Yang, for this gift. "The Song Poet" is a powerful example of the importance of telling and saving stories - all stories - in order to preserve a complete and true picture of our past and, in so doing, to promote empathy and understanding. The book's jacket tells us, "In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses. Extemporiz Kao Kalia Yang's, "The Song Poet," is a thing of beauty. Thank-you to both Kalia and to her father, Bee Yang, for this gift. "The Song Poet" is a powerful example of the importance of telling and saving stories - all stories - in order to preserve a complete and true picture of our past and, in so doing, to promote empathy and understanding. The book's jacket tells us, "In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses. Extemporizing or drawing on folktales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births , weddings, and wishes." Yang writes here not just her father's story, but the story of how it impacted the stories of those around him, particularly his family. She begins with the very touching moment when she first realizes that her father is a song poet and then flashes back to what brought him to this moment and beyond. As with "The Latehomecomer," Yang does not tell "The Song Poet" in a linear fashion. As with memory and the oral tradition of the Hmong culture, the stories of our lives loop and weave, both together and apart. The point of view switches between father and daughter. We learn of Bee Yang's family and of growing up in Laos, of the impact that American soldiers had on the country during the Vietnam War, of the family's eventual escape into Thailand and their many years in a refugee camp, their eventual move to the United States, and their life here. Though Yang's story is full of heartbreak, tragedy, adversity, it is also full of love and goodness and hope. In and of itself, Bee Yang's story is compelling and important. Though not traditional in terms of plot, "The Song Poet" is successful on this level alone. However, Kao Kalia Yang's use of language pushes this memoir to the stellar level. Yang's use of poetry in her prose is masterful, and if you have ever had the pleasure of hearing her speak, she herself is a "song poet" in her own right. The imagery is powerful and vivid and unforgettable. Some memorable passages: p. 1 and 3 - " I am the only person I know who describes my father's work as poetry. I am not referring to the pieces of hard metal he polishes, the rough edges he makes smooth, the coarseness he evens into shine. I am talking about the songs he composes, day and night, in Hmong, our language, his 'kwv txhiaj.' My father is not a writer. He does not write down his compositions. He is a singer. He sings them...In perfect pentatonic pitch my father sings his songs, grows them into long, stretching stanzas of four or five, structures them in couplets, repeats patterns of words..." p. 5 - "I watched groups of people cry around my father's songs, and I saw how sorrow could be shared." p. 9 - "...my father standing on a makeshift stage, his voice muffled by the debris of our lives in Thailand, struggling to be heard." p. 11 - "I did not want to tell my father that his song had shaken my heart, taken me to a place that I did not want to visit for fear I would never return. Now that I had heard, I could not forget the suffering and sorrow of the Hmong story." p. 16-7 - "I was thirty years old when I took out my father's cassette album and listened to it. By then, I had become a writer. By then, I had learned enough about poetry and literature, about art, to see my father as a literary force in my life. By then, I had grown to understand that my father was a fine poet in the Hmong tradition, and as poets across traditions and time have done, my father has suffered for his poetry. What I found in the old cassette tape, however, was not a work of suffering...it was striking to me that there was humor, irony, and astute cultural and political criticism. There was so much more that the hurt that I thought he had harnessed in his songs. There was the beauty of endless hope." p. 31 - Bee Yang says, "The only good thing about my father's death is that he did not see the Land of the Million Elephants fall to the roar of the iron birds that dropped balls of fire from the sky...My father did not live to see his son yearn for a father, or struggle to become one." p. 39 - "But it was not until I was a grown man with children that I could speak of my endless yearning for a father. Day by day, I stored my loneliness and the constant missing deep inside of me. To appease my hungry heart inside, I started gathering the beauty of flowers that blossomed from people's lips in the presence of those they loved and adored. I used to run away to repeat the words to myself whenever the yearning grew unbearable." p. 54 - "I ran away so many times because I could not carry the weight of words, the ones inside of me and the ones around me. I could not use my mind to escape from the actions, conscious and unconscious, of those who loved me. There were words I yearned to hear and there was no one to say them." p. 55 - "Each day I grew more certain that my future would rest at the point of a gun, not a pen." p. 56 - "When I began singing song poetry I discovered I could share our stories of hurt and sorrow, of missing and despair, of anger and betrayal, conscious and unconscious, intentional and not - my silent sensitivities - with those around me." p. 81 - "Shong said, 'Bee, there is no wrong time for love to flourish. Perhaps now, when so many men and women have learned to hate and fear, is the most perfect time of all, for each of us to be reminded of a lesson in love.'" p. 93 - "In 2003, our big brother Shong Moua Yang died...No tender good-byes. In the dark nights after his leaving, we talked of hope. We hoped that on the other side of life there is a place where justice is not delivered in a courtroom but around the hearth of a home." p. 94 - "Track 4 - Love Song" - This entire chapter, a love song from Bee Yang to his wife, Chue Moua, is breathtaking! - "I loved you when..." p. 113 - "Each woman held a needle between her thumb and her forefinger and she picked at the white fabric strewn across her lap with her needle and her thread, telling the stories of her people...envisioning the way life could be again - if we could return the bullets to the guns, suck out the craters from the earth, stop the bombs from falling in the sky and the planes from flying overhead, and if we could stop time and tragedy from happening to the Hmong." p. 117-118 - "Time cannot erase my memories of fear and shame...there are things that I still cannot speak of. I am not afraid of Dawb and Kalia asking me whether I carried illegal drugs to make money or to avoid death. I am afraid of them seeing the shame on my face, shame on a face they know as good, a person they know as true, a man who teaches them scruples and honor, decency of heart...When we see reminders on television about the dangers of a life caught in crime and corruption, I know my face crumbles in compassion. I, their father, who speaks of the world in terms of what is right and wrong, who tells them that each heart, no matter the circumstance, must do what is right, disappear, and in my place is the man they've only seen through the shadows of memory, of nightmares past, a man who has nothing to say." p. 118 - "In America, my voice is only powerful within our home. The moment I exit our front door and enter the paved streets, my deep voice loses its volume and its strength. When I speak English, I become a leaf in the wind." p. 119 - "...I know that the price for the future is the present..." p. 124 - "We are confined by by the knowledge: every job kills you eventually." p. 143 - "...with my father's death we had both learned a lesson about life: the futility of holding on." p. 145 - "'While we are poor in America and ,any of us have no jobs, in a different country, underneath a different sky, we had nothing to be embarrassed about. I was a teacher, someone who stood at the head of the classroom, not just someone who looked in from the windows or walked by the doors. You must remember this." p. 145 - "Our father loved words. He believed in them. He was hurt when people didn't live up to them, and his words for us and our future were big ones. As much as we loved his words, we were scared of them." p. 148 - "We had Uncle Chue's story to remind us that a person didn't need to be born with education; it was a position in the world each of us could work on. We had Uncle Hue's story to tell us that college was not something new or impossible for our family..." p. 157 - "The problem of education had entered our lives. Uncle Chue had not talked about it. Uncle Hue had said nothing about it...No one had told us that education could change the way you felt about the world and the people in it, that it could give you words to use, and actions to take, not in support of those who love you but as a response to them, that education in America would make our father and mother less educated in our eyes." p. 160 - "...the educational paths they had urged us to walk, and cheered for us to run, were full of treacherous holes they could not help us navigate." p. 183 - "'People's words can't kill you. It is guns and bullets that kill." p. 184 - "...words such as 'chink' and 'fatso'and 'go back to your own country' mean nothing to us because they are not born in our hearts, language, or experience. Our father said the most important thing that each of us has to remember is that it should be the words and actions of those we love...that should enter our hearts and spur its beats, not those of people who are out to hurt us, out to silence and diminish us." p. 196 - "'I want you to have a life that is better than mine. I don't want you to become a machinist like me. I don't want you to live your life with men and boys far stupider that you telling you that you don't belong here, that you are no good for this country, telling you to return to a country you do not have. I want you to have a better life than me. I want you to be better than me." p. 220 - "As I was mourning the loss of my American hero [her grandmother], my father was feeling for the first time, the reality of being an orphan." p. 241 - "Loss was a thing that defied borders, allegiances, claimed each and every soul that sought shelter and light in a thing as troublesome as land and belonging." p. 247 - "There were pieces of us that we had left in Laos, and after all these long years, we knew we had to return to collect them for our journey forward." p. 253 - "The stubborn heart of youth clings even in the body of the aging." p. 255 - "We were at an impasse. We could not return to the past. We did not know the way to the future. We stood in the moment." p. 262 - When Bee's supervisor tells he and his coworkers, who are about to walk out of their jobs, "'Before you walk out of here, think about your children.'" Bee thinks, " He did not understand us at all. He did not know why men like us stayed at places like this. He did not know the way the human heart worked - at least, not ours. He didn't know that we had been thinking about our children all this time. We had not run through wars, waited in captivity, only to come to this country to work in such factories and have men like him yell at us and mistreat us year in and year out because we had not been thinking about our children. We had taught them we could survive, we had taught them how to work...Had we forgotten in our exhaustion to teach them what we were worth? What they were worth? We would bow no longer, bend our heads no more." p. 265 - "'Look at what human intelligence has built...Human beings have had the power to kill each other for a long time now, to explode the world, but we haven't. People keep giving birth to little boys like me, people keep telling us to walk toward the future, the beautiful future.'" p. 267 - "'When one dreams in the right direction, the dream never dies, one never wakes, it always only grows bigger and bigger.'" As a tool for understanding, "The Song Poet" is top-notch as well. There are many valuable life lessons here, lessons about family, loss, humility, adversity, fairness, survival, love, forgiveness... I have recommended this book for three of the book clubs that I belong to - it is a must read! Thank-you Kao Kalia Yang! (P.S. On a recent trip to Fargo North, Dakota, I photographed a billboard that advertised the "One Book, One Community 2016" program. There, larger that life, was a picture of Kao Kalia Yang's, "The Late Homecomer"! Way to go Fargo, North Dakota!!!! Congratulations to Kao Kalia Yang!)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karna Converse

    A memoir that becomes even more poignant the longer I think about it and the more I learn about the author When the Vietnam War expanded into Laos, the CIA recruited the Hmong to fight against communism but when America left the country, Laos's communist government ordered a "re-education" of all who remained. Bee Yang was 16 when his family left their remote mountain village for the surrounding jungles in 1975. They knew of neighboring villages that had been burned, of men and boys who had been A memoir that becomes even more poignant the longer I think about it and the more I learn about the author When the Vietnam War expanded into Laos, the CIA recruited the Hmong to fight against communism but when America left the country, Laos's communist government ordered a "re-education" of all who remained. Bee Yang was 16 when his family left their remote mountain village for the surrounding jungles in 1975. They knew of neighboring villages that had been burned, of men and boys who had been taken for re-education but never returned, and of the dead who had been left in piles, to rot. For three years, he hid from the Pathet Lao with his mother and his siblings and their families. He befriended and married Chue Moua and then crossed into Thailand and to the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp when they could no longer scavenge enough food for the growing family group. Eight years later and as refugees of war, they landed in the United States and made their way to St. Paul, Minnesota where Bee and Chue took labor-intensive, assembly-line factory jobs so they could provide for their family. One of their daughters, Kao Kalia, was born in the refugee camp and she tells her father's story with respect, honor, and love. The Song Poet is both meditative and inspiring—much like the art form itself. In Hmong tradition, a song poet keeps the past alive. He tells stories of his people's history—the joys and struggles; the marriages, births, and deaths; the folk tales and the lessons learned. Bee was revered as a song poet at a young age and became so well-known for his performances during their early years in St. Paul that he recorded a cassette tape of songs for the community. In both his voice and hers (and under section titles of Side A and Side B), Kao Kalia introduces the Bee who survived the jungles, the refugee camp, and the unsafe working conditions of an American factory so his children could have a better life and pays homage to the Bee who impressed stories of patience and kindness upon others so they could see the good in humanity. Each Track (chapter) is prefaced with lyrics from one of Bee's songs, and it's easy to see that he understands the power of words as much as she does. The Song Poet has been a finalist for several other awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN USA Literacy Center Award winner; it was awarded the 2017 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. This is her second memoir. Kao Kalia is currently writing books for children. Bee 's art can be heard in this Minnesota PBS story: https://video.pbsnc.org/video/art-bee...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shirley

    I liked the portrayal of a solid sense of love in this family. I especially liked the Love Song to Bee's wife Chue. I liked the immigrant family father's clarity of the value of education to obtain a good job for his daughters, a doctor or a lawyer. When the parents are talking one night about a Hmong woman who is dating a white man and they fought and the man beat the woman badly, the father said the woman shouldn't have been with the man in the first place. "It was dangerous to cross cultures a I liked the portrayal of a solid sense of love in this family. I especially liked the Love Song to Bee's wife Chue. I liked the immigrant family father's clarity of the value of education to obtain a good job for his daughters, a doctor or a lawyer. When the parents are talking one night about a Hmong woman who is dating a white man and they fought and the man beat the woman badly, the father said the woman shouldn't have been with the man in the first place. "It was dangerous to cross cultures and to pit a Hmong woman's small fists against that of a much larger white man's." The daughter Dawb calls her father "Racist". "Before this point, education had always been a path full of light, the direct road to becoming doctors and lawyers. In the past, we had shared things we learned with our mother and father--Christopher Columbus, slavery, the Civil War, and affirmative action. It had all made sense, the American story that we were entering, the place we were in. Never before, though, had the lessons in school penetrated so deeply and been applied so emotionally in our home. "The problem of education had entered our lives.... No one had told us that education could change the way you felt about the world and the people in it, that it could give you words to use, and actions to take, not in support of those who love you but as a response to them, that education in America would make our father and mother less educated in our eyes." The story of this family provides a well-made illustration of racism in white middle America. I found the trek back to the homeland gut-wrenching--leaving meant survival and life would never be the same again. One wants to imagine a world where all the people are safe in their homelands, and no one is a stranger. When people are, the burden is on those in the new homeland to realize the pain of this challenge. The story of Bee standing up to the racism in his workplace provided a taste of the gift and the price of seeking justice.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abby Fabiaschi

    I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear Yang give a reading. Afterwards, I dug into this memoir with high expectations. I was not disappointed. Most memoirs highlight the lives of people who are already household names, or who have reached the height of professional success in their niche. But what about those who have a gift and message worthy of a microphone but no stage? On the first page, Yang writes, "My father says that on his gravestone he wants it known that his wife and h I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear Yang give a reading. Afterwards, I dug into this memoir with high expectations. I was not disappointed. Most memoirs highlight the lives of people who are already household names, or who have reached the height of professional success in their niche. But what about those who have a gift and message worthy of a microphone but no stage? On the first page, Yang writes, "My father says that on his gravestone he wants it known that his wife and his children are his life's work. He would love it if we could add: 'All of Bee Yang's children became good people.'" Bee writes and sings poetry that would enlighten the world with the only audience interested in hearing it: his family and friends. Her father's art transforms the author's perceptions at a young age. She shares: "His poetry shields us from the poverty of our lives." As Yang's family battles to find their place in America, Bee's wisdom shines through, though is not always enough. "Our father said the most important things that each of us has to remember is that it should be the words and actions of those who love us, like our mother and father, brothers and sisters, that should enter our hearts and spur its beats, not those of people who are out to hurt us, out to silence and diminish us." As a reader I found myself disappointed by how often the Yang's faced the latter. I write this review hopeful more will pick up this masterpiece, which inspires compassion and awareness to the realities facing marginalized populations in the United States. Read it. Yang is a natural storyteller with insight impossible to glean from someone who hasn't walked among the Hmong.

  21. 4 out of 5

    William

    A brilliant and touching family memoir that serves as an excellent and essential companion to Yang's earlier book, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Together, the books tell powerful stories of identity, immigration, forced migration, assimilation, racism, and within one family, the complicated and slow process of Americanization that sees each child becoming more Western than the last, with the oldest sister Dawb in a particularly challenging role as the interpreter between her frustrat A brilliant and touching family memoir that serves as an excellent and essential companion to Yang's earlier book, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Together, the books tell powerful stories of identity, immigration, forced migration, assimilation, racism, and within one family, the complicated and slow process of Americanization that sees each child becoming more Western than the last, with the oldest sister Dawb in a particularly challenging role as the interpreter between her frustrated, powerless parents and the presumptions and expectations of a widely disinterested white America. Many of the stories Yang finds are impactful and delicately presented to capture a range of emotions, but never grasp for effect or charge the reader. I was deeply affected by this book, moreso than its predecessor, but they should be read together, as inseparable as sisters.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Towle

    Another fantastic book by Kai Kalia Yang. It shines a light in the struggles of being forced out of Laos only to experience hatred and racism while trying to build a new life in America. My heart broke reading about the bullying in high school and the terrible treatment of the men working in the plants, given no respect at all and forced out of there jobs. I’m sad to live in a country that treats refugees so poorly. The strength of Bee and Chue and the children is incredible. Loved the stories an Another fantastic book by Kai Kalia Yang. It shines a light in the struggles of being forced out of Laos only to experience hatred and racism while trying to build a new life in America. My heart broke reading about the bullying in high school and the terrible treatment of the men working in the plants, given no respect at all and forced out of there jobs. I’m sad to live in a country that treats refugees so poorly. The strength of Bee and Chue and the children is incredible. Loved the stories and songs. I highly recommend reading this book, its WVery powerful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is an informative, poignant, and memorable memoir of a Hmong family and the father at its head. The voice alternates between the father and the author, a daughter. She reads it, usually in a rather deadpan way but at times near tears. Necessary reading for those interested in the lives of Hmong refugees in the US.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    “After his death, all my brothers and sisters and I waited for dreams of Shong. There were none. No figure of a small, muscled man with the wide-legged black Hmong pants and the shirt secured in front with a safety pin. No words of wisdom. No tender goodbyes. In the dark night after his leaving, we talked of hope. We hope that on the other side of life there is a place where justice is not delivered in a courtroom but around the earth of a home.“

  25. 5 out of 5

    Johanna

    Exquisite The story is poignant, tender, heartbreaking, and real. The writing is beautiful and loving. The details about Hmong culture, in America as well as southeast Asia, broadened my understanding exponentially. What a pleasure to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I love Yang's writing. This one takes an interesting format, where some of it is told from Yang's father's perspective, and some from hers. I cried at the end when Bee is able to go to Thailand. Yang is a beautiful writer and I look forward to reading more of her work. I love Yang's writing. This one takes an interesting format, where some of it is told from Yang's father's perspective, and some from hers. I cried at the end when Bee is able to go to Thailand. Yang is a beautiful writer and I look forward to reading more of her work.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    There was some redundancy with Yang's Other Book (Latehomecomer), but still worth the read. There was some redundancy with Yang's Other Book (Latehomecomer), but still worth the read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    This was a beautiful story integrating her father’s background with her own. This was much more lyrical than The Latehomecomer. Such a personal story told with such beauty, I highly recommend it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    Exquisite! Full of love, pain, loss, longing, wisdom. But most of all, love.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    A lovely and loving memoir, of a father and daughter's voices entwined to tell the story of a family whose experience, past and present, is a saga the world needs to know. A lovely and loving memoir, of a father and daughter's voices entwined to tell the story of a family whose experience, past and present, is a saga the world needs to know.

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