By Suvanshkriti Singh
If there is a single thing one cannot grudge a man, it is the catharsis of writing about the death of a child. However, reading Mitch Albom's most recent memoir, one does wonder about the necessity of inflicting upon the world yet another hackneyed monograph on familial love and its tragic loss.
Medjerda Jeune-the Chika of Finding Chika-was born in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince three days before the infamous earthquake wreaked havoc on the country. Her life, though miraculously spared, is marked by disaster: two years later, Chika's mother dies in childbirth, leading her father to abandon the family. Soon after, she finds herself at the Have Faith Haiti Mission, an orphanage that Albom and his wife have run since the year of the calamity. Barely five years old, Chika shows signs of neurodegeneration, and travels all the way to the US to receive a diagnosis for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. To date, the disease has no cure. Despite tragedy staining Chika’s life, we learn, it could not touch her spirit.
As much as Finding Chika is an account of strangers and friends stapled together into a family by misfortune, it is also a celebration of its protagonist’s indefatigable zest for life.
Albom’s struggle is appreciable-officially, he might only have been Chika’s legal guardian, but the mark a child can leave on a middle-aged couple harbouring latent regrets about choosing to remain childless, and the closeness that only the realisation of mortality can foster, is indelible, unforgettable. The tenderness of the sentiment on which Albom has premised this memoir, however, does not translate into its narration.
Even when one accounts for the caveat that the loss of a child is not the most relatable of emotions, the experience of parenting remains, more or less, a universal constant; yet Albom’s success in opening up the private recesses of familial life to his readers is severely limited. This is due, in part, to the narrative technique employed. The focus of Albom’s chapters jumps between his own self (Me), Chika (You) and their relationship (Us). While this is an effective strategy where supplying a comprehensive summary of facts is concerned, it takes away from the interiority of Albom’s characters-a shame all the greater for the characters being real persons.
Finding Chika is, in essence, the compiled musings of a grieving man that were better left private.
Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family
Pp 243, Rs 499