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Book Review of Memory Piece by Lisa Ko

Review by Kevin Brown

Lisa Ko’s second novel follows three Asian-American women—Giselle, Ellen, and Jackie—who meet as teenagers, then remain close for the rest of their lives, though they see each other infrequently. Giselle becomes a performance artist, Ellen transforms a house she and others squatted into a type of communal living space, and Jackie revolutionizes the tech industry, careers and passions that seem far removed from one another.

However, they are all creators of some sort, even artists, though the world seems bent on preventing them from becoming so. They encounter sexism and misogyny, racism, and capitalist expectations, working together and separately to overcome (or simply thwart) those barriers and demands, to find success in their own ways. Ko moves the novel from the 1980s of their teenage years all the way to a future beyond their deaths to explore the ways in which they impact their world and how they become the women they need to be to survive and thrive in that world.

Underneath their different pursuits, they are all trying to answer the same questions that all artists are trying to answer, the questions Giselle knows an interviewer is really asking her: “HOW DO YOU LIVE (HOW DARE YOU LIVE) WHAT DO YOU DO (WHAT SHOULD WE DO) HOW DO WE LIVE HOW DO WE DIE WHAT DO WE NEED TO HEAR.”

Ko’s novel provides three different answers to those questions, but, more importantly, it asks the readers to find the answers in their lives.

Memory Piece by Lisa Ko. Riverhead Books, March 2024.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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