The Year of Finding Memory

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The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong Bates. Random House 2010.

I read Judy Fong Bates’ novel, Midnight at the Dragon Cafe, a few years ago. As I read along, I recognised descriptions of the fictionalized town that serves as the setting. It is based on Acton, Ontario! We lived for many years in the countryside near Acton, and my kids all went to school there. I moved to the Acton area as an adult, but Judy Fong Bates grew up there, and I was very interested in reading her memoir. I was reminded of this when The Year of Finding Memory was included on the Canada Reads 2012 Top 40 Longlist, and I sought out a copy.

Judy Fong Bates came to Canada as a three-year-old and grew up here. She learned English as a child and, as the only Chinese youngster in town, became part of the community of children around her. She considered herself a Canadian. For her parents, life was more difficult. They never mastered English and were isolated by language and culture in the small Ontario town they settled in. The Year of Finding Memory is the story of Fong Bates’ discovery of her roots and, more significantly perhaps, her discovery of her parents’ hidden lives, who they really were.

Many years after growing up and long after her father’s death, Fong Bates returned to China for a reunion with half-siblings from her father’s previous marriage. The Year of Finding Memory is in part a travelogue, as Fong Bates visits rural regions not often seen by tourists, and shares in the lives of her long-lost relatives. She learns how important the money that her parents, living in poverty themselves, sent home to Chinese relatives was to the recipients. She makes surprising discoveries about her parents’ lives, and learns about the fate of people who remained behind in China.

The Year of Finding Memory is beautifully written, skillfully weaving together many threads, from her parents’ immigrant experience in Canada to modern life in China. I was disappointed that this book didn’t make the top 10 Canada Reads list. It is an interesting and moving memoir, recommended reading.

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