In Accomplice to Memory, Q.M. Zhang tries to piece together the fractured mystery of her father’s exodus from China to the U.S. during the two decades of civil and world war leading up to the 1949 revolution. But after a lifetime of her father’s secrets, lies, and tall tales spun for fellow Americans, Zhang’s efforts to untangle the truth are thwarted by the distance between generations and her father’s growing dementia.
One day, late in his life, Zhang’s father tells her a story she never heard before, and suddenly, all of his previous stories begin to unravel. Before she can get clarity on the new information, her father is hospitalized. Armed with history books and timelines, Zhang sits at her father’s bedside recording accounts of love, espionage, and betrayal–trying to separate the good stories from the true ones. The one about the Chinese boy scout. The one about the secret radio station and the communist spy. The one about the girl on the boat. As Zhang follows her father upriver into the interior of a country at war, she is pulled in and along by an uncanny assemblage of images, memories, documents and dreams that inspire and conspire with her own attempts at truth telling.
Part memoir, novel, and historical documentary, this hybrid text explores the silences and subterfuge of an immigrant parent, and the struggles of the second generation to understand the first. Mixing images and text in the manner of W.G. Sebald, Zhang blurs the boundary between fiction and nonfiction, memory and imagination, and the result is a literary page-turner of one woman racing against time to uncover and reimagine her family’s origin story.