1943 ‘Don’t you dare forget me’

When My Ghost Sings: A Memoir of Stroke, Recovery & Transformation
 by Tara Sidhoo Fraser

Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2023
$22.95  /  9781551529271

Reviewed by Betty Jane Hegerat


Tara Sidhoo Fraser’s When My Ghost Sings: A Memoir of Stroke, Recovery & Transformation pieces together the aftermath of a stroke and diagnosis of a rare brain mutation when she was thirty-two years old. She refers to the cataclysmic event as “that day in November.” But how to write memoir, reach deep into memory, through the haze of amnesia?

As Fraser struggles to regain memory that will be sufficient for whom she has become, she looks to the people most intimate in her life. “The boy” with whom she was living fills in the details about the event on that day in November. Her mother takes her back through childhood, the childhood of her former self who has now become Ghost.

Tara Sidhoo Fraser

Ghost is a presence deep inside Fraser’s body and mind, fighting the transition to a future that moves farther and farther away from the past. Ghost kept a Memory Box; photographs and postcards evoke vivid images of place, and old loves. Ghost offers stories that the boy contradicts. Ghost, Fraser decides, is wrong with a reason. “Deep down my ghost says, don’t you dare forget me.”

Fraser narrates her story in rich literary style.  The language is eloquent, the dialogue realistic and dynamic, and the voices of each of the people in her life have the ring of authenticity. After the first short chapters in this book, where the fragments of life before that day in November collide in contradictory voices, Fraser meets Jude and the trajectory of their journey grounds this story in so far as it can be grounded. In the chapters that follow, I found myself forgetting that I was reading memoir. Fraser became the narrator and Ghost a character in this story, rather than the very real voice and presence the author could not escape as she moved through recovery. But Ghost is not a fictitious creation. Ghost whines, and cries and rages, claws and kicks at the heart of Fraser’s rebirth. In visceral detail, Fraser describes the struggle to find her way to new love and a new life.

Throughout this story, I felt compassion that wrapped around both Fraser and Ghost. Ghost sings. “Ghost’s bony fingers are cupping my heart as she sinks back into my bone marrow…her wails have calmed to a slight humming.”

This is memoir at its richest, not fiction. So, I will not be concerned about spoilers.  Memoir does not end in denouement.  But Tara Sidhoo Fraser’s eloquent memory ends in a place of peace. “Ghost’s song is still muted, still subdued, floating strands of remember me in this body we both call home.”


Betty Jane Hegerat

Betty Jane Hegerat, a social worker by profession in earlier years, is a Calgary author, teacher and mentor. She has published five books: two novels , a collection of short fiction, a work of creative non-fiction that is a blend of fiction, investigative journalism, memoir and metafiction, and a novel for young adults. Her first love has always been short fiction and she is currently working on a new collection. She was the 2015 recipient of the Writers Guild of Alberta Golden Pen Award for lifetime achievement in writing. [Editor’s note: Betty Jane Hegerat has reviewed the work of Patricia Jean Smith previously for The British Columbia Review.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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