Mitch Albom
Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake, and the Making of a Family
Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0751591936

Finding Chika 

 

"[T]his is a deeply gut-wrenching book that will bring you to tears (probably repeatedly). But it's also a book about an amazing, albeit short, life; one which was richly lived and experienced. Most of all, it's a book about the remarkable and unexpected nature of love."

Chika Jeune made an impression on journalist and writer Mitch Albom from the moment she met him. When the then-three-year-old was first brought to the Have Faith Haiti Mission and Orphanage, which Albom and his wife Janine Sabino operate in the Haitiain capital of Port-au-Prince, Albom recalls that as discussions between himself and the woman who had been caring for Chika following the death of her mother were taking place, Chika looked as if she was getting impatient.

"[I] stuck out my tongue and you stuck out yours, and I laughed and you laughed in return," recalls Albom, addressing his comments, as he does throughout the book, to Chika herself.

That meeting was to be the start of a relationship that would, in the end, completely undo both Albom and Sabino. Albom, you may recall, is the American writer of the best-selling Tuesdays with Morrie and a host of other books as well as being an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. What you may not know is that since 2010, he and Janine - who have no biological children, have operated the orphanage in Haiti.

Their relationship with the orphanage was born out of disaster; formed when Albom visited the country with a pastor in the wake of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 which lefts hundreds of thousands dead, many more homeless and the country devastated.

But this isn't really that story. It is, instead, the heartbreaking yet hopeful story of Chika - after all, as she tells Albom in one imagined scene, "I wanna hear about ME!" Who can argue with that? Certainly not Albom.

Chika, you see, was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of just five and this book details the journey Albom and Janine embarked upon with as they tried, desperately, to save her life, a task which involved taking Chika to live with them in the US where she could receive medical treatment as well as, at different times, to Germany.

But it was not to be and Chika passed away at the age of just seven. It's no spoiler to share that tragic news with you before you read the book - Albom breaks this sad news to us in the first few pages.

In fact, the book is structured around a series of imagined conversations Albom has with Chika after her death as he works to share her story - and the story of his and Janine's relationship with her - with us, his readers. Through its pages, we learn all about Chika's short life but more than that, how it changed the couple, as we're talked through seven lessons that their relationship with Chika taught them as the young girl became such a key part of their lives.

Yes, this is a deeply gut-wrenching book that will bring you to tears (probably repeatedly). But it's also a book about the remarkable and unexpected nature of love and the impact it can have on us if we open ourselves to it. Raw and emotional, Finding Chika is deeply rewarding read.