In November 2019, Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family was to be released. The memoir is Mitch Albom’s eighth book in a list that includes numerous best-sellers, such as Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and The Time Keeper. Finding Chika details the story of its namesake, a Haitian orphan named Chika, who Albom and his wife, Janine, adopt after learning that Chika has Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a type of tumor that begins at the brain stem.
In Chika’s case, it was first exhibited in the “drooping” of her face. Despite a bleak prognosis indicating Chika would have just four months to live, Mitch and Janine remained unfettered. The book follows the family through what becomes a two-year journey seeking treatment from medical experts across the world, telling an unforgettable story of parenthood.
“I wasn’t trying to write a book. I don’t think of it like that at all,” says Albom, who took over Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage — a Christian mission that’s been providing a safe space for educational and spiritual development for Haitian orphans since the 1980s — after a 2010 earthquake devastated the country. That authenticity is one of the hallmarks of Albom’s style. His authorial voice rarely sounds like that of a writer’s as much as it does like that of a friend. But writing is indeed art, and work like Albom’s takes years of practice, meditation, and reflection to craft.
He compares the experience of writing Finding Chika to writing Tuesdays with Morrie. Both books were written exactly 20 years apart, featuring subjects wrestling against imminent death.
“When I wrote Tuesdays with Morrie, I was mostly writing about the wisdom that Morrie was saying. I wrote little about how it changed me. In this book, it’s very evident how Chika changed me. I write a lot about that.” Some of that honesty comes in the form of regretting the selfishness of his youth and how that prevented him from having children sooner. Some of it comes in simply realizing the renewed sense of purpose that comes with caring for someone entirely dependent on you. “Finding Chika is an interesting bookend to the two books. But so is, in some sense, the beginning of your life and the end of your life. That’s kind of what’s going on here.” Finding Chika is a look at the writer at his most unvarnished — something Albom’s devoted fans will appreciate.
As for what’s on Albom’s reading list, it’s lots of books. They’re all compiled on his Apple Books app, which for years he hadn’t downloaded until his shoulders and back started to give in. Recently, he was bouncing between The Tattooist of Aushwitz by Heather Morris; Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff; A Walk Through Carnival by Edwidge Danticat; What are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson; The Café by the Sea by Jenny Culligan; and The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. “As a writer, I like to see how other people write. I read to learn and to be impressed.”
Written for Hour Detroit by Lakshmi Varanasi.