From the bestselling author of All You Can Every Know comes a searing memoir of family, class and grief—a daughter’s search to understand the lives her adoptive parents led, the life she forged as an adult, and the lives she’s lost.
In this country, unless you attain extraordinary wealth, you will likely be unable to help your loved ones in all the ways you’d hoped. You will learn to live with the specific, hollow guilt of those who leave hardship behind, yet are unable to bring anyone else with them.
Nicole Chung couldn’t hightail it out of her overwhelmingly white Oregon hometown fast enough. As a scholarship student at a private university on the East Coast, no longer the only Korean she knew, she found community and a path to the life she’d long wanted. But the middle class world she begins to raise a family in – where there are big homes, college funds, nice vacations – looks very different from the middle class world she thought she grew up in, where paychecks have to stretch to the end of the week, health insurance is often lacking, and there are no safety nets.
When her father dies at only sixty-seven, killed by diabetes and kidney disease, Nicole feels deep grief as well as rage, knowing that years of precarity and lack of access to healthcare contributed to his early death. And then the unthinkable happens – less than a year later, her beloved mother is diagnosed with cancer, and the physical distance between them becomes insurmountable as COVID-19 descends upon the world.
Exploring the enduring strength of family bonds in the face of hardship and tragedy, A Living Remedy examines what it takes to reconcile the distance between one life, one home, and another – and sheds needed light on some of the most persistent and grievous inequalities in American society.
I have never been a big memoir reader. If I do pick up a memoir, I prefer that it tackle or provide insight into a social issue or be humorous. Those are really the two types of memoirs I typically read. After seeing pre-publication praise for A Living Remedy, I thought I would give it a try since the publisher’s synopsis pointed to the focus being the American healthcare system.
Instead, I found that A Living Remedy is a memoir about one Asian adoptee’s relationship with her white parents, their deaths, and how she coped with their illnesses and her grief. Before I critique the book, I want to note that I am not discounting Nicole Chung’s experience. Instead, I am discussing the book itself, its writing, its structure, etc.
According to the publisher’s notes, A Living Remedy “provides an incisive indictment of the U.S. healthcare system, and the ways it fails those living in economic insecurity.” But I can tell you I found nothing of the sort within this memoir. In fact, there is barely even a mention of the U.S. healthcare system. If anything, this memoir demonstrates how social determinants of health play out in the long run.
For me, A Living Remedy was light on substance and became repetitive. The book felt more like a series of essays or diary entries rather than a comprehensive memoir that compelled readers to turn the pages. While Chung includes rich reflection, she never really narrates a story. Instead, the book reads like a piece of exposition. There was little story to become lost in, and I did not find what was on the page to be fascinating or particularly provocative. For me, if the story is not a fascinating one, I am still able to enjoy the memoir if the writing is exceptional. However, it was also lacking.
I thought the writing in A Living Remedy was very plain. To me, it read more like a newspaper or a journal than an emotional story. The words did not bring the narrative to life. Instead, the writing only provided a collection of memories and events to which I was never able to connect.
Overall, A Living Remedy is Chung’s personal reflection on the love she had for her parents and their love for her. Unfortunately, it was not a memoir that spoke to me. I would only recommend it if you too are coping with grief or the loss of a parent or caregiver.
A Living Remedy: A Memoir
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April 4, 2023