A Conversation with Grace Loh Prasad, Author of The Translator’s Daughter

May 22, 2024

Grace Loh Prasad’s The Translator’s Daughter, hailed as a “a poignant memoir about the joy, sadness, struggle, and complexities of being an immigrant” and a “soulful and profound meditation on family, diaspora, and grief,” was published earlier this year through Mad Creek Books, an imprint of The Ohio State University Press. Today, we are proud to present this conversation with the author from one of our former volunteers, Swetha Amit.


Swetha Amit: Writing The Translator’s Daughter took over two decades. How did you combat the challenges of the delay and several changes during this lifespan?

Grace Loh Prasad: I started writing individual pieces, such as essays and short-form memoirs, in the late 1990s. After I received my MFA from Mills College in Oakland in 2003, I wrote a lot more. Several chapters from my memoir were written during my MFA time and remain untouched with minimal editing. Then life happened. I got married, had a kid, did freelance writing and consulting, and eventually took up a full-time corporate job. During my early years of marriage and motherhood, my parents began to experience health challenges. Just as I was getting to understand and learn more about my Taiwanese heritage and culture, I started to lose my family members one by one, and that changed what I was writing about. It became more than me just reconnecting to Taiwan. It became about my grief. The middle section of my memoir is all about my mom’s journey through dementia and Alzheimer’s and how it tested her relationship with my dad, and then the deaths of my brother and both of my parents. The third part of the memoir is more about my reflection and processing all those threads together.

Your memoir follows an interesting structural premise. You move from a tension-induced atmosphere at the airport to a unique structure of using photo albums to tell the story of your parents. How did you decide upon this structure/format? 

It wasn’t a deliberate decision at first. I started writing individual essays, and eventually, I had more and more of them. “Projections” was a piece I wrote in 2001, and it was published in Hedgebrook Journal and republished in a different journal online. Over time I found that I couldn’t write in a straight narrative of a traditional memoir. Each piece felt self-contained and seemed to have a life of its own. It’s hard to hold an entire life story in your head, so for me, I had to work bit by bit. I wanted to present my work using these different structures and narrative voices. A writer friend was moderating a talk at the Bay Area Book Festival and said, “Hybrid lives need hybrid structures.” That summed up what I was trying to do–my life doesn’t fit into a conventional structure, and neither does my book.

Speaking of experimenting, you also change points of view from first to third person. What prompted you to make this choice? 

I was trying to write about my early childhood, which felt distant. Accessing those memories inside my body was harder, so I used the third person to examine my life as though I was a camera. It felt like I was a mere observer. That piece delves into my childhood many decades ago in New Jersey and spans my life all the way to the pandemic, which felt like a mini-memoir in a small space. When I taught a workshop at Rooted & Written at The Writers Grotto, I specifically encouraged experimentation while writing about one’s life, especially when there’s trauma or marginalized identity. It can be very painful to access intense feelings, and sometimes, it helps to put yourself at a distance.

Language was a barrier for you and almost alienated you in your home country. In some instances of the language barrier, you experience humanity and kindness. Do you feel this memoir will bridge the gap between you and your country on the language of humanity?  

I hope so. Any writer who writes a memoir does so to be more understood and potentially help others. I have this interesting dynamic with my extended family members in Taiwan. Except for a handful, none speak English, and my Taiwanese vocabulary is like a five-year-old’s. That was the age I stopped speaking Taiwanese. When my parents passed away, it became even harder for me to do anything in Taiwan because of the language and cultural barriers. My book is available on e-commerce sites in Taiwan, but it’s only published in English, so it won’t reach all the way to my relatives although I hope a small audience in Taiwan can read and understand some of the challenges I faced. My dad was a translator, and ultimately, he wanted to help spread the gospel and create human understanding through stories. Even though my work differs from my dad’s, and he had the advantage of being fluent in many languages, I work as a communicator, writer, and editor, trying to create more understanding and a feeling of belonging. In different ways, our work aspires toward the same thing–to create connection on a human level.

As an immigrant, you are always in this strange space of transit of being in a country not your own and feeling disconnected from your birth country. How did you navigate this transit space, and how did it affect your identity? 

I don’t remember my first migration from Taiwan to the USA when I was just two. The first big move I recall was from New Jersey to Hong Kong when I was nine. By that age, I felt Americanized in my mannerisms and had my own tastes and preferences. While externally, I would blend in in Hong Kong because of how I looked; as soon as I spoke or had to ask for something I would be identified as a foreigner. I remember my first dinner in my new apartment in Hong Kong. My father made these instant noodles and though it was a simple dinner it was meant to be a celebration. But when I took my first bite, the noodles tasted so different that I burst into tears. This crystallizes my experience of culture shock. I realized this was different from the food or the world I was used to, and living here would be different. Though I was Taiwanese, I still felt American in my head. Later, when I returned to the USA for college, the language aspect was easy, but I still had a distinct feeling of not fitting in. I wondered if people would like me or relate to me because I had lived in another country and had an unusual background.

You mention in your book that Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking couldn’t be read in just one sitting. How do you expect readers to read your book?

Some people have mentioned having read my book in one or two sittings. It begins with tension at the airport, and the pacing changes to a gentle, almost lyrical piece structured as a photo album. There are many ways to read it. People can read from front to end, read some individual pieces, or read a couple of essays.

Has penning this memoir changed you? 

Writing this memoir has helped me grow as a person and understand myself. That’s why I have always gravitated towards the essay form. Essays are all about self-understanding. A lot of the time, I write before I know what I am writing about. The meaning of it becomes apparent and takes shape only when I later edit it.

Are there any books or authors who have inspired you? 

Some of my early inspirations are The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. They are beautiful examples of storytelling that defies convention and great works of art, singular voice and original style. These are works by Asian American writers who have a history in other countries and dealt with war and colonialism to re-establish themselves elsewhere. I’m also a fan of authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Hanif Kureishi from the South Asian diaspora, and it’s been wonderful to see a massive flourishing of Asian and Asian American authors over the past decade or so–too many wonderful authors to name.

Lastly, are there any more projects in the pipeline?

I have some projects to get back to after the book launch and after trying to make this book take off. I have some ideas for memoirs, and these projects started long ago. I hope to try my hand at fiction. It feels more challenging for me when you have these possible choices. I work better with constraints. It makes me feel more creative.

Grace Loh Prasad is the author of
The Translator’s Daughter (Mad Creek Books/The Ohio State University Press, 2024), a debut memoir about living between languages, navigating loss, and the search for belonging. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Longreads, The Offing, Hyperallergic, Catapult, KHÔRA, and elsewhere. A member of the Writers Grotto and the AAPI writers collective Seventeen Syllables, Prasad lives in the Bay Area.


Swetha Amit is an Indian author based in California and an MFA graduate from the University of San Francisco. Her works across genres appear in Atticus Review, HAD, Flash Fiction Magazine, Maudlin House, and Oyez Review. (https://swethaamit.com). She has received three Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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