In the Garden Behind the Moon: A Memoir of Loss, Myth, and Magic

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Beauty and magic are interspersed in the winding journey of healing from grief, despair, and loss. Painter, photographer, and archaeologist Alexandra A. Chan shares her path to reconnecting to family stories and ancestral myths of the “Old Chan Magic” after she lost her beloved father, Robert Chan. After losing her parents, Chan contends with grief through shamanic journeying, meditation, journaling, traveling, and taking up different hobbies. Amid surrendering to the pull of self-discovery, she managed to maintain her career, nurtured her marriage, and mothered two young sons.

The memoir starts with telling the lore around T’ai Peng, the first Chan to leave China to make a life in the United States. Operating a laundromat in Savannah, Georgia, the Chans homeschooled their children, who were not allowed to attend public school in the Jim Crow South. With ancestors guiding her path, the author pieces together the Chan family story from letters, photographs, memories, and other archives of lives well lived. History and magic blend to create an unforgettable tapestry of interwoven, inter-generational stories of persistence and flourishing.

Chan integrates magical realism into a most unforgettable memoir. The author organizes the narrative along significant years of self-discovery anchored in the Chinese zodiac. She writes eloquently about her journey toward gaining a deeper understanding of incorporating myth and wonder in daily life, always delivered in a respectful tone. The author shares her research on the psychology of mythmaking and storytelling from Western thinkers Joseph Campbell, Stephen Larsen, and John O’Donohue.

As an Asian-American immigrant, I fully appreciated learning about the remarkable accomplishments of Robert Earl Chan and his siblings as they overcame the confines of racism in the segregated South. While magic features prominently at the beginning of the book, the succeeding narratives about Robert Earl Chan’s life and career in the army and industry were more straightforward. Chan’s father was an engineer, an inventor, and a community leader. As a Chinese American man, he bucked tradition by marrying a White woman despite anti-miscegenation laws.

Grief can be overwhelming, and this memoir is unlike any I have read. The author writes convincingly about the heartfelt revelations about losing her father, a larger-than-life character father whose bright light never diminished. Chan accompanies the revelatory narrative with family photographs and her artwork as she ponders the contemplative nature of photography and brush painting. Connecting to deeper truths, one finds a way out of the wasteland by harnessing magic, love, and wonder.

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Author Alexandra Chan
Star Count 5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 432 pages
Publisher Flashpoint/Girl Friday
Publish Date 28-May-2024
ISBN 9781959411543 Buy this Book
Issue February 2024
Category Biographies & Memoirs