A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in Autobiography
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 American'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.
Overall, 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.
"The Song Poet, Kao Kalia Yang’s remarkable new book, is about art, resilience and the opportunities and indignities that come with life in a new country . . . Her follow-up reaffirms her status as an exceptional storyteller, one whose work reminds us that big, timeless truths reveal themselves when we pay attention to small, specific details . . . The Song Poet proves uncommonly mindful of the link between geopolitical turmoil and domestic tribulations . . . In perfectly paced chapters about Bee Yang’s boyhood, the book recounts his birth sometime in early 1958."—Kevin Canfield, The Star Tribune
"Kao Kalia Yang allows us to hear the whispered sorrows and hopes of those transplanted onto foreign soil among strangers. I predict that this mystical and historical memoir—of her Hmong family's suffering in Laos, of the rigors and fears of their life in a refugee camp, of the shock of finding themselves unprepared for city life in Minnesota, and of the pain of discrimination—will become a classic."—Jane Hamilton-Merritt, author of Tragic Mountains: The Hmong the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992
"This is the best account of the Hmong experience I've ever read."—Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Reviews from Goodreads
Birth of a Song Poet
“I didn’t have very many people around to say beautiful things to me.”
“I used to go from the house of one neighbor to...