AC­COM­PLICE TO MEM­ORY

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Biography -

Q. M. Zhang, Kaya Press Soft­cover $17.95 (228pp), 978-1-885030-52-8

Trained in an­thro­pol­ogy, psy­chol­ogy, and cre­ative non-fic­tion, Q. M. Zhang brings all th­ese dis­ci­plines to bear in Ac­com­plice to Mem­ory, a rad­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the na­ture of truth and mem­ory that’s equal parts bi­og­ra­phy and mem­oir, nar­ra­tive and graphic art. Zhang’s fa­ther, Wang Kun, grew up in China in the decades lead­ing up to the 1949 rev­o­lu­tion and im­mi­grated to the United States shortly af­ter­wards. Zhang fi­nally de­cides to tell his story after a health cri­sis that leaves him with de­clin­ing men­tal fa­cil­i­ties. When his life­time of si­lence breaks down, it’s in scant, of­ten con­tra­dic­tory sto­ries. Although his nar­ra­tive over­laps ma­jor his­tor­i­cal events, he al­ways places him­self just out­side the known. Zhang notes that chil­dren of sur­vivors “are af­flicted with a strange con­di­tion that makes it dif­fi­cult for them to dis­tin­guish be­tween fact and fic­tion, though they are cer­tain that a clear line can be drawn be­tween the two. They crave truth yet are be­set by doubt and sus­pi­cion of any­thing that smacks of it.” All too soon, the de­cep­tively sim­ple task of nar­ra­tive be­comes the great­est chal­lenge of all.

It soon be­comes clear that Zhang’s voice is au­tho­rial, not au­thor­i­ta­tive. She of­ten dou­bles down on her sus­pi­cions and doubts, pre­sent­ing col­lec­tive his­tor­i­cal record, par­tic­u­larly images, as per­sonal fam­ily his­tory and then mythol­o­giz­ing that his­tory. Zhang aban­dons the sin­gu­lar nar­ra­tive in fa­vor of a trou­bled, un­sta­ble con­struc­tion that ex­ists be­tween im­age and text, fa­ther and daugh­ter, mem­ory and his­tory, reader and writer, in a stance that claims the col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence as her own. Zhang of­fers end­less prompts on which to hang the nar­ra­tive of her fa­ther’s life, and as the line be­tween truth and fic­tion is steadily and de­lib­er­ately blurred, it be­comes clear that all mem­ory is nar­ra­tive, a con­struct that’s re­played again and again un­til it gains saliency and longevity in the mind.

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