Book Review: The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

I wrote a review for The Corresponder, a book review publication out of MSU, Mankato that focuses on Minnesota writers, and I’m putting it here to kick off my series of book reviews for the summer and beyond!

I realize I need more practice writing these things, so pardon me if these reviews suck for a while. Just know that the books are actually good.


The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

Kao Kalia Yang

Metropolitan Books, 2016

Hardcover, $27


Kao Kalia Yang; author of the award-winning memoir, The Latehomecomer; writes a second memoir, The Song Poet, following the life of her father, Bee Yang, a recorder of Hmong stories. In this memoir, Yang recounts the migration of her father and his family from Laos to Minnesota, time in the Thai refugee camp, and trials in raising a family new to the United States. The book acts as a remembrance, a grieving for Hmong history and suffering, and as a testament to the sacrifices and songs of her father.

Kao Kalia Yang shares the struggles of her family in the new culture, her brother’s struggles with bullying and her father’s struggles with racism in the workplace in the latter half of the book which focuses on Bee’s children. With the current social and political climate today, in Minnesota and the US, Kao Kalia Yang gives the reader context to communities in Minnesota, a more tender perspective of the human hearts that have migrated from a war-torn setting. Kao Kalia Yang allows us to travel with her father through creating a more intimate relationship, through point of view, with the reader.

Split into two sections, Side A: Birth of a Song Poet and Side B: Song for My Children, Kao Kalia Yang takes the point of view of her father, recording his stories from birth to his factory job in Minnesota. Yang also performs a duet with her father, responding in Side B; the sentences that comprise the book are lyrical, which can be expected from a song poet and a writer. We, as readers, see a vastly detailed global landscape as we journey with Bee, and the reader is not able to sit idly by; the Yangs evoke emotion in the readers and understanding through this act of remembering.

Kao Kalia Yang allows the reader to grow with her father, Bee Yang, to see the world from his perspective. The reader hears his heart and the stories that reside there, sees how the world can crush the songs inside of us. Kao Kalia Yang records the songs and stories of her father in this book and demands that we believe that poetry is necessary for human connection and that remembering collective history is an essential act of love.


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