Book Review – My Year of the Racehorse by Kevin Chong

My Year of the Racehorse
by Kevin Chong

My-Year-of-the-Racehorse-Cover

Greystone Press, Mar. 2012,
224 pages, $22.95 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Elliot Chan.
Published in Ricepaper 18.1, Summer 2013.

In the outset of Kevin Chong’s memoir My Year of the Racehorse, he did not know a lot about owning a racehorse, why people decide to own racehorses, or even how to make any type of extravagant purchase at all, least of all of a live animal. Chong’s pre-purchase considerations include whether it really makes sense to add more complications to our lists of things to do when one could just buckle down, save up for an apartment suite, attempt to find true love and end one’s days with no regrettable tattoos. A racehorse, well, that just seemed like an unnecessary gamble.

For most Vancouverites, the Hasting Racecourse has just always been there, like the hollow tree in Stanley Park or some other historical landmark of no relevance, but still worth saving. Until I read this book, I too would drive by it on Renfrew Street and dismiss it, unaware of all the jubilance and heartbreak exploding inside. Chong’s story
brought me into a world within the stables and upon the tracks. From bandaging an injured horse to finding a spot in the winner’s photo, Chong brings to life the glamour and austerity of horseracing. It is a culture so close to home, but so different, as if it was a machine taking me back to a bygone time.

The result is Chong’s sometimes heartfelt, sometimes comedic, but always relatable retelling of the year he spent as a racehorse owner. Or at least the owner of a portion of the racehorse: the hoof and a hank of hair, maybe. Relatable may at first strike readers as an odd choice of word, since most likely don’t own racehorses. But the book is somehow just that, relatable, as it explores that eternal enigma; the thin line between rational and irrational, and the happiness we find with uncertainty and hesitation. In this light, Chong shows how his compulsiveness is not so foreign, nor his ultimate solution: in order to accomplish everything on his to do list, he must compromise.

At first Chong admits that buying a horse was an act of exploitation. He wanted to see what would happen to him, with no awareness of the consequences; it surely must be a chance for growth. But as the story develops, we begin to see
Chong’s eclectic decisions mirroring our own. We flip through old photo albums and see all the phases we went through growing up: the awful haircuts, the skinny jeans era, and the year as a racehorse owner. My Year of the Racehorse offers a glimpse at our own life, the things we do to avoid the things we actually should do. With dry wit and plenty of adventure along the way, Chong perfectly captures the complexities of choosing between what we have to do and what we want to do.

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Artifacts: Vancouver’s Newest Asian Canadian Voice, Janie Chang

A profile of Janie Chang by Elliot Chan. An excerpt.
Published in Ricepaper 18.1, Summer 2013

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New Town Bakery and Restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown roared with conversations and kitchen clamour, filling the dining area with a familiar ambient. As a plate of dumplings arrived, Janie Chang perked up in her seat, smiled and insisted that we share. “You are supposed to share when you are Chinese,” she said.

It was this old habit that fuels Chang’s writing. Her need to share the stories her father had told her and to help it pass on to the next generation of eager listeners, the same way it was handed down to her. But another driving force for Chang’s debut novel Three Souls, published by Harper Collins in August 2013, is guilt, a simple emotion that can linger for a lifetime. “I had the benefit of growing up and listening to those stories,” she said, “and having a strong sense of family continuity. My nieces and nephews never got that chance. I documented them. Spoken word is an ephemeral medium, if you don’t document them, then they will never know those stories.” With a fear of remorse leering over her, writing became the moral thing to do.

For the full article, buy the issue.