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The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,248 ratings  ·  244 reviews
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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Metropolitan Books
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Average rating 4.40  · 
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 ·  1,248 ratings  ·  244 reviews

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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
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
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.
Rachel Linnemann
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Meg - A Bookish Affair
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction, memoir
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 ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Gayla Bassham
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: naau, memoir
[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
May 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Apr 16, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Carol Sullivan
Absolutely gorgeous writing. Such beauty and sadness woven artfully together.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Karna Converse
Jun 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Abby Fabiaschi
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 ...more
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“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.“
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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.
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
There was some redundancy with Yang's Other Book (Latehomecomer), but still worth the read.
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exquisite! Full of love, pain, loss, longing, wisdom. But most of all, love.
Kristin Boldon
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Emily Goenner
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Beautiful. I found this story a little uneven, the shifts from Kalia's father's story to her story were bumpy sometimes. And, at the same time, there were passages of absolute beauty. Kalia's writing, again, is evocative and touching. The chapter in which her father describes his love for his wife is so beautiful--I won't soon forget it. ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm in love with her writing style. So lyrical and beautiful. I fell in love with her family instantly and didn't want to put the book down. ...more
Cherisa B
Beautiful. Heartbreaking.
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Play Book Tag: The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang - 4* 3 15 May 21, 2018 07:13AM  

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Kao Kalia Yang is an award-winning Hmong-American writer. She is a graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University. Yang is the author of the memoirs The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and The Song Poet. The Latehomecomer is the first Asian American authored and centered book to be added to the roster of the Literature to Life Program and a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title ...more

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