A Living Remedy


The epigraph at the beginning of Nicole Chung’s vivid memoir A Living Remedy includes a line from Marie Howe’s poem “For Three Days”: “ . . . because even grief provides a living remedy.” As Chung immerses readers in her experience of grief, her powerful words compel us to follow her on a beautiful but difficult journey of loss.

Chung was born prematurely to Korean parents who felt they could not care for such a fragile baby. She wrote about her adoption by a white couple, and her subsequent search for her birth family as she became a mother herself, in her bestselling 2018 memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Now Chung continues her story, returning to the Oregon mountains of her childhood at the moment her beloved adoptive parents’ health began to fail.

Chung’s struggle to be present for her parents as a daughter, while also being a wife and a mother in another city three thousand miles away, will be familiar to many readers. When her father’s health began its slow downward spiral, he was still young enough to seek a better job with better health resources but was stymied by his limited education—and proud enough to resist the government assistance Chung begged him to request. When he finally did, he was denied, falling through the cracks of a broken health care system. By that time, his illness had taken an irreversible toll. Chung’s grief and frustration over his death were fanned by the costly miles between them, but she resolved to do better by her widowed mother. However, Chung’s time with her mother eventually ran out as well, as the gathering storm of the COVID-19 pandemic spread its own brand of pain and panic.

A Living Remedy makes this era of collective grief more personal, as Chung honestly explores her childhood and the lives and deaths of her parents. She gives these hard times a purpose, absorbing them with both fury and compassion, making them part of her own legacy to pass along to her daughters. For her, this is indeed a living remedy.

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