Honest. Heartfelt. Hopeful.
One of the books we were most looking forward to, Simu Liu’s memoir, We Were Dreamers, is all of those things and more in its 289 pages of content. But, above all else, his book is about understanding. Understanding yourself and your relationships. Understanding the people and history that precedes you. And understanding that any one story can only come to fruition because of the countless stories that came before.
Liu describes his book as both “(his) very own immigrant superhero origin story” but also as a “family memoir.” It’s an accurate and important distinction to make to get a proper understanding of Liu’s life.
The memoir is appropriately split into three acts: the first focusing on his early upbringing in China with his grandparents and his parents’ pasts, the second focusing on growing up in Canada and navigating his relationship with his parents, and the third focusing on his journey from failed accountant to a naive yet ambitious actor to the MCU’s Shang-Chi.
As a fellow millennial who grew up in North America as a child of Asian immigrant parents, I related to much of what Liu experienced and detailed in his book. The idea of trying to live up to your parents’ expectations and make their sacrifices worthwhile is not a foreign concept, and it’s not a concept exclusively lived by first-generation Asian Americans and Asian Canadians. But to read in detail about someone else’s similar experiences with and emotions concerning such was cathartic — albeit also sad.
Even what I couldn’t personally relate to was easy to grasp and empathize with, because Liu didn’t shy away from the truth — no matter how harsh or heavy. This honesty is part of what made this book so compelling. He wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable about the past he has lived and the emotions that have fueled him. It’s an invitation for all readers — Asian or not — to embrace their truths and work toward something better.
There are parts that will make you cry, and there are parts that will make you cringe — college Simu, I’m looking at you. There are parts that will make you laugh, and there are parts that will make you linger with the feelings presented.
One of the biggest things that impressed me about the book was how evident and established Liu’s voice is. As someone who has considered themselves as a writer for 10 years and counting, I’m well aware of how difficult it can be to establish your voice. But if you’re a fan of him, then you’ll unmistakably recognize the writing as his, especially given the Marvel and Star Wars references and the basketball analogies. Overall, it’s casual with the bits of humor expected of him but serious and sincere when it needs to be.
We Were Dreamers offers what every good memoir should: legitimate insight.
Most of the people who read this book will likely never meet the man who penned the words. But we’ll all come away with a better understanding of him — and maybe even yourself and those you love if you’re a fellow child of Asian immigrant parents.
We Were Dreamers is available now.
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