Books Inc. of Alameda hosted a successful launch on May 11 for local author Karin Jensen’s debut memoir, The Strength of Water, an Asian American Coming of Age Memoir, with a standing-room-only crowd in attendance.
“This is a small press publication, so I wasn’t sure if I should pursue a book signing event,” Jensen said. “I worried it would be just me, my husband, and kids who showed up, but I underestimated Alameda’s community spirit. So many friends and acquaintances encouraged me and offered to help get the word out. It was nice to sell some books, but it was lovely to feel such warmth.”
Books Inc. Event Coordinator Yehya Abuzaid noted, “As an independent bookstore, Books Inc. Alameda is always excited to support the local community through events with local authors. It helps us remain rooted in the city and bring attention to talented authors such as Karin. The event was wonderful and a great success. Staff and attendees alike enjoyed hearing her story and I could tell many felt a connection to her work.”
In The Strength of Water, Jensen records her mother’s transpacific quest for identity, survival, and new world dreams. It is a chronicle of Asian American history told through one family’s experiences.
“I grew up here in the East Bay,” Jensen said, “but my mother told stories of growing up in her father’s Detroit laundry business during the infancy of the automobile industry and later in a Cantonese village on the eve of the Sino-Japanese war. She also spoke of surviving as a live-in domestic worker and teen waitress in mid-century California.”
The stories took many forms, Jensen said. “There were stories of gamblers, an American dream, dashed hopes, dangerous superstitions, war-time privations, folklore, those who take advantage of the economically vulnerable, racism in housing, and toxic expectations relating to sexuality and marriage. But there were also stories of persistence, resilience, the warmth and strength of family, the kindness of strangers, and fighting for a little slice of happiness in this world. “
The stories felt like mythology, far removed from her own experience, the author said. “I found them fascinating and felt they were an important piece of history to preserve. When I decided to set them down, I could hear my mother’s voice so clearly that I wrote in the first person.”
In the 2000s, Jensen formally interviewed her mother, aunts, uncle, sister, and dad, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that she polished the manuscript and sent it out. “COVID put everything into focus,” she said. “I felt I couldn’t die without getting this story into the world.”
A personal highlight for Jensen was having her 96-year-old Auntie Jean, a beloved story character, unexpectedly attend the event. “She rarely goes out at night, but my cousin arranged transportation. I was so happy.”
Friends of the Alameda Free Library interviewed Jensen about her book the night before the book signing, which spurred additional interest. That interview is available to stream on YouTube. The Strength of Water is available at Books Inc., 1334 Park St., and on Amazon.