All the Love in the World by award-winning poet, Cathy Song, is a window into three generations of an Asian American family — from Korean immigrants navigating life in rural Hawai’i, to an Asian American couple trying to find the balance between their racial identities and pressures to assimilate into mainland America, to their American-born children growing up to start their own families. Song has created short stories that can be read discretely or sequentially, but no matter which path a reader takes, one can see that they are all tied together by both love and grief. Stories jump from different points on the timeline, yet each story is filled with a delicacy that shows that these stories collectively belong to every family member.
We start off in the grandparents’ Moon Flower Bakery which serves as a vacant vessel where the rest of their family will enter, interact, and grow together. We learn of their immigrant experience and see how intergenerational trauma touches their son, Sung Mahn ‘Mahny’, and then infectiously spreads through the family until his children, too, are hyper-aware of their racial identity.
The stories evoke a culmination of emotions as you watch love sprout in a small bakery and bloom into a large, beautiful family. Intimate moments are shared between Eleanor, a Chinese American who is only tied to her culture by her family’s mooncake recipe, and Mahny, who is constantly reminded of his racial identity as an invisible barrier to the world he dreams of. Subtleties make readers feel as if they are growing old with Eleanor and Mahny and growing into maturity with their daughters. Along the way, I, too, felt as if I was growing alongside them as they faced difficulties, health complications, and loss.
Cathy Song beautifully strings together a visual experience filled with manifestations of guilt and love that makes readers question what is left when cultural and familial bonds are weakening. Each person deals with loss differently — some distract themselves, while others sit and wait for a sign from the universe to move on. Is guilt an inherent part of watching your parents grow old? What must be done to keep a family together? Even though the stories jump around from different time periods, as a reader, you feel as if you are going through the same struggles as they subliminally cope with their built-up traumas while grieving together, remembering together, and loving together.