“Book Review: Amnesia”
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
A bold and staccato dance with form and sound that explores an identity pulled in multiple directions
Amnesia by Hal Y. Zhang is a work of strange cohesion and disparate form. In fewer than twenty poems, Zhang pushes the written word to its limits to express and illustrate where she stands between the language and culture of China and that of the United States. No two poems reflect each other in form or shape, but there is a gossamer thread of theme upon which they are all suspended.
Family and language make many appearances throughout the work, and Zhang explores the theme of identity at the crossroads where those two meet. She looks at how, despite the globalized momentum of the world, homogenization comes with a price.
The writing is a ride. Amnesia is a shotgun of emotion and epithet and expression. Zhang does not hold your hand as you piece it together. For some readers, this style could be somewhat jarring, but for those who are willing to dig deep into the excavation of the speaker’s relationship with language and self, there’s a reward waiting inside.
Often, the poems and visuals strip away any non-essential words, which has a twofold effect. Zhang’s rapid-fire phrases and imagery create a barrage of sensation for the reader, but can also obscure the meaning behind them. The entire work might be under thirty pages, but it’s a full reading experience–a chance for those who love to look closely to piece together Zhang’s nuanced meaning.
Several of the poems make use of Hanzi, which for many readers will appear as moments of silence in the poems. These logograms serve a purpose, highlighting the danger of the eponymous Amnesia the author explores, that if she loses her connection to Mandarin, these markings will become “unparsable lost sounds.”
Amnesia is a gathering of self through a language you’ve nearly forgotten. I would recommend this to those who have felt their identity pulled in multiple directions and to those who want to play witness to its pursuit.
Print Length: 28 pages
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Excellent review. A book I will be following up.