THE APRICOT OUTLOOK OF KATHERINE KOON HUNG WONG by Dennis Wong opens powerfully with a calendar page for February 1928 upon which the date of the 27th appears in red, followed by a certificate of birth issued by the State of Hawaii upon which one word has now been stamped: “deceased.” What a fine, provocative beginning to the succinct biography pulled together about the author’s mother Katherine Wong, based upon audio recordings done between 2005 – 2009, the latter part of her life. Filled with old-fashioned family photos and bookended by a glossary of Hawaiian and Cantonese terms that often find their way into Katherine’s speech, this is a warm, homey, sometimes thought-provoking introduction to life lived by a woman both ordinary and remarkable.
In somewhat stilted English, Katherine “Katy” Koon Hung Wong relates that life was not always a bowl of apricots. At three years old, a slightly older sister died in her arms. Many years later, her husband Clifford also went on to die beside her in bed. Katherine had a daughter named Becky who died in childbirth as well. This means learning to navigate grief while carrying on was a skill Katherine was forced to develop early on. Working in her family’s laundry business filled Katherine’s days beginning in childhood. In the old days, she and her family ate dates collected as they fell from the trees. They also ate pigeons and oxtail, Chinese stew. Not considering herself smart enough for college, Katherine learned the skills of a beautician from Lily Wong who paid her $1.50 to learn.
While easy to read and filled with these kinds of precise details from the subject’s life, as the book progresses towards Katy’s marriage and adulthood it becomes challenging to ascertain exactly what type of readers might genuinely gravitate towards this kind of book beyond direct family members to whom such a detailed account would be relevant. While Katherine’s experiences of loss and jealousy are touched upon, for instance, not much is offered about how she specifically dealt with painful events in a way that might provide unrelated readers an opportunity to glean universal lessons potentially valuable to the world at large.
Filled with meticulously researched genealogical information, THE APRICOT OUTLOOK OF KATHERINE KOON HUNG WONG by Dennis Wong offers a glimpse into the realities of early Chinese immigrants setting up lives in historical Hawaii and elsewhere.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader