May 2, 2023

If you could ask the author any question, what would it be and why?

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Not a question, but just to say thank you for this beautiful, insightful book. I live geographically far from my mother and this has reminded me of the importance to make the most of what time we have, when we have it, in whatever context that may be.


Have you read Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker?


Why did you choose to add such scathing remarks towards a politician to an otherwise interesting read about your mother’s battles with her own diseased mind? They were unrelated and unnecessary. I was taken aback, and wish you had not spoiled the book for me by bringing up politics. 😕


Throughout the book I observed that you did not tell us of any good memories of the place that you grew up unless it was a memory related to your family. I particularly think of how much you were bullied and assaulted during your childhood and teenage years. I am sorry that you had to have such painful experiences. I wonder, have you ever experienced forgiveness and the release of bitterness for the place that you grew up? Have you been able to forgive the boys who did unspeakable things to you, and the teachers who looked away? I am working through a lot of forgiveness myself right now and am curious on where you are at.

babs corley

I am curious to know why your last name is a traditional Korean name, yet your father was described as an American merchant marine hailing from Washington State? Did you chose Cho as a nom-de-plume to honor your mother?


Grace, did you ever speak Korean with your mother either as a child or later as an adult? How did she feel about your efforts to learn Korean later, or did she ever express how she felt about it?

Last edited 16 days ago by Abby
Grace M Cho

Hi, Abby. Thank you so much for this question.
I only spoke a little Korean with my mom. During my childhood, it was mostly limited to food words and simple phrases around my Korean relatives.
As an adult, I tried many times to re-learn Korean, with varying results. I’d often ask my mom how to say things, and after a while, she said to me, “You will never stop being Korean, will you?” with a big smile on her face. I think she was pleasantly surprised that staying connected to language and culture was so important to me. It was a moment of healing, because there was an incident when I was in junior high and I said something critical of her as we were walking across a parking lot. She stopped in her tracks and said, with tears in her eyes, “You are ashamed of me because I’m Korean.” I was shocked because my comment had nothing to do with her being Korean, and it was my first awareness that I had the capacity to hurt her. My mother was able to perceive something that I myself could not yet perceive, because yes, growing up as one of the only Korean people in a small xenophobic town made me ashamed of being Korean, and that shame necessarily implicated her.
I wasn’t able to forgive myself for hurting her until the moment, more than twenty years later, when she said “You’ll never stop being Korean, will you?” I think she realized that the shame I once had had transformed into acceptance and pride.


Hey Grace! I just lost my mother at the beginning of the year to the long term effects of alcoholism so I very much understand and relate to the “three mothers” concept. Having had some more time to sit with and study your own grief for this book how do you think your grief for each version of your mother has coalesced into something this cohesive? I am still very much in the midst of this process and have spent the last decade mourning the mother who raised me which has made grieving the mother she became during her decline have a sense of pointlessness to it.

In any case thank you very much for writing and sharing this with us. You were able to help me out some words to concepts that I was still muddling with.

Grace M Cho

Hi, Katie. I am so sorry to hear of your loss, and the multiple losses that you’ve experienced.
I don’t know about you, but when my mother died, I felt the grief of having lost the first mother all over again as those memories of her came back to me, and any hope I had of her full recovery also died. It took writing this book to fully see how the first mother was still there in the mother of my thirties, and that we shared many loving moments in the last years of her life.
I had to shake off all our cultural notions about what mother-daughter relationships are supposed to look like and accept that just sitting together and sharing a meal inside a studio apartment, over and over again, is not only OK, but very meaningful.
The mother that I most miss today is that third mother. I encourage you to write because it can help with processing your grief and it allows the relationship with lost loved ones continue to evolve.

Janet FitzGerald

Thank you so much for this book, for sharing your story. I am sure it was very difficult to mine through the histories and pain, but that effort gave us so much to think about and learn from. Your book will stay with me, I am grateful for it and your generosity and insights

Viki Gedroit

I would ask the author why did they write this story and if there is a background story. And how old were they when they wrote it?


Grace, thank you for sharing your and your mother’s story. Your mother was a remarkable influence on your own life’s journey all the way to your career, your dissertation, studies, and teaching. If you could see her one more time, which would you prepare for her? A hamburger or some kimchi? And why…

Grace M Cho

Hi, Cinzia.
Wow, I love this question and I’m feeling emotional at the thought of seeing her again.
After she died, I started experimenting with putting finely chopped kimchi in hamburger patties (since kimchi was popping up everywhere in the culinary scene around that time), and it was delicious.
I would definitely make that for her so she could have both.


It seems that you greatly admire your mother and were deeply saddened when she passed. Yet you also relate several aspects of your mother that were certainly harder to handle, like her high expectations early in life and her schizophrenia later. Did you ever struggle to reconcile these two views of your mother, or do you feel that you never had anything but love and respect for her?

Grace M Cho

Hi, John. Thank you for your question. It was definitely a struggle, especially throughout my 20s and early 30s. When I wrote about the 3rd mother that emerged during those 10 years I was cooking for her, it was partly because of the way that process allowed us to reconcile.
There’s a moment in the book where my advisor says to me, “Maybe you’re keeping her in the room,” with the emphasis on the “you.” I reacted badly to that statement at first, but then I realized that I needed to forgive my mother for the things she couldn’t help, as well as for her imperfections. I needed to let go of the wish that she be a different kind of mother. That shift in perspective ultimately changed our relationship. As I wrote to another reader, I didn’t get the opportunity to go through that process with my father because he died when I was still too young and angry to practice forgiveness.


What was the name and spelling of small town in Washington state that was referenced repeatedly?




It seems like you have a lot of compassion for your mother and yet I don’t see that for your father.
I understand that he might be harder to understand because his faults where more of a moral nature where your mothers where less her fault and more simply symptoms of her mental illness and a background full of terror.
I guess I’d be interested in seeing your father’s background as well. You mentioned he’s relationship to food being one of fear at times (recounting being beaten for not finishing). Could it be that there are terrors in his own story that explain his faults like his apparent racism or domestic violence towards your mother? Did he too have a traumatic life that inspired violence/racism like your mothers past begat her schizophrenia?
Not to condone his actions in anyway but to understand him better. I feel as though he’s vilified while your mother is anointed sainthood in places in this book and I just makes me want to know more about his past and what motivated some of his actions/ world views.
On another note I absolutely loved your mother. Some of the things she said like “one plate no love” made me smile or when your father pooped all over your brothers house and your mother (a woman who has a debilitating mental illness) explains with clarity she knows what must have happened and has had to clean up after his accidents before made me laugh out loud at her frankness and the irony that she is still caring for your father even though she so desperately needs care as well.

Grace M Cho

Hi, Taylor. Thank you for your question. It pains me to hear that my father came across as vilified, because that was not my intention. However, I can speak to a couple of reasons why there’s an imbalance in the attention I paid to their stories:
One is that I made a conscious decision to focus this story on my mother and my relationship to her, so all the other characters in the book are minor. I had a whole chapter about my dad, which I ended up cutting out because when my editor and I were doing the final revisions, we realized that it didn’t really fit. I have written a little about his traumas elsewhere though (the postscript to my first book, for example).
Another is that I didn’t know my father as well. I spent far less time with him during my childhood (because he traveled), and even less during my adulthood. We were estranged through most of my early twenties and then he died when I was 27. I’d like to think that if I’d had more time with him – more time to work through our problems and more time for me to mature – I could have seen him with a deeper level of compassion.
Finally, I hope that you and other readers can see the differences between Grace, the character and Grace, the narrator. The areas where there’s a harsh tone towards my father comes when the character of Grace is in her early 20’s, which was a time in my life when I had a lot of anger towards him. I hope that it reads differently when the character is a little girl or when I’m writing as the narrator, who understands that he was a product of his time and place (coming of age as a farmer in rural white America in the late 1930s) as much as I was of mine (coming of age as a liberal arts college student in the early 1990s).


Do you feel the DSM should be revised ?
Specifically to address Schizophrenia causes & onset.
Do you think racism is a mental illness ?
Both for the perpetrators and a causal factor in the mental illness of persons attacked.
I remember a husband going insane after his family was attacked after attempting to move into a PA community like the Wash community mentioned in the book. The attackers looked insane . Like rabid animals. I saw pure hate for the first time at 10 years old. It is so ingrained in this country. Had two brothers serve in Korea and both were treated like 2nd class citizens both in Korea and USA upon their return. No comfort for them either place.
We pray for a better future for our children & their children . When individuals are judged by character not skin color. This ignorance must cease .

Grace M Cho

Hi, Byrd. Thank you so much for your questions and comments. I’m sorry to hear about your brother, and I appreciate that you’ve linked the traumas experienced by your brother, a soldier, and my mother, a civilian.
As for whether I think the DSM should be revised, yes, but that would only be a very minor change to a much larger problem. It’s a diagnostic system that reduces the complexity of human experience (within the complexity of social experience) to a biological error.
Instead of focusing on revising the DSM, I advocate rethinking the idea of mental illness altogether. There are many different ways of understanding and responding to the experience we call “schizophrenia,” and research has shown that pathologizing it can make the outcomes worse.
For further reading, I recommend Luhrmann and Morrow’s Our Most Troubling Madness, Rachel Aviv’s Strangers to Ourselves, and Claire Bien’s Hearing Voices, Living Fully.
Racism is definitely a social ill, but it’s a learned behavior/belief, so I would not necessarily agree that it’s a type of mental illness.

Jennifer Morgan

You told your dissertation supervisor that you had never wanted to be an academic, you’d only done this to please your mother. Is that hyperbole or true? And, if you spent your life trying to please your parent, how do you live after achieving that goal, and after your parent dies?

Grace M Cho

Hi, Jennifer. Thank you for your question.
The answer is… complicated. I pursued my post graduate degrees primarily to please my mother, and I was miserable for much of the time, but I also did it because it provided me with a structure in which I could explore my family history.
Understanding the past and the social context of my family’s history was a tremendous need of mine during my young adulthood, and it still is today during my middle age.
The desire to confront trauma has been a constant throughout my life, and I’ve done it using the tools I learned in graduate school (research, writing, creative work). In that sense, my mother pushing me to be educated was an incredible gift.
So no, it’s not hyperbole, but the consequences of doing something to please my mother were very beneficial for me. I should also mention that I’m no longer confined by academia, and I’m in a place that suits me now.
There was a moment, after my mother died, when I thought I’d leave academia. I took a year off and pursued some creative projects, and then I realized I could make it all work by pursuing creative work through academia.

maryjo andersen

Grace has an amazing memory for details in her life. Did she keep a dairy as a child?

Grace M Cho

Hi, Maryjo:
I did keep a diary during my adolescence, but not earlier in my childhood.
People I’m close to have always told me that I have an amazing memory, and I see that in my own child. However, there’s so much of my childhood I don’t remember well.
I wrote about the things that are the most salient in my memory – the cocktail parties, going foraging with my mom (very joyful times), as well as the moments of trauma.
The things that tend to stay with us are the ones with the most emotional resonance.
Thank you for your question!

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