Online Book Club Review by SenSen, Published Aug 1, 2020

Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese-American woman. Her family came to San Francisco when she was 12, but they continued to live in a traditional Chinese household. ‘Although not everyone knows what it’s like to be an immigrant, almost everyone understands how it feels to, in Vera’s words, “search for the thing you are good at.”’ Her search began in a trap shooting lesson, in her late 40s, and by the age of 70, Vera Koo was both a national and world titleholder in the sport of Action Pistol Shooting. In between, there were periods of accomplishments, and of failure. Created by Vera herself, with the assistance of writer Justin Pahl, The Most Unlikely Champion, is a memoir that tells us her story.

The memoir follows two timelines. The first is portraying all the significant moments in Vera’s life, from her relationship with her parents – a father with a role of a detached patriarch and a mother with a mysterious past, through her relationship with her husband, Carlos, and their children, all as a background of her career as a competitive shooter (or is it the other way around?) In the second timeline, Vera is much older, recovering from yet another injury that puts her in a hospital bed, causing her to miss Bianchi Cup that year, but using that time to reflect upon her life. 

Raised by traditional Chinese values, it was expected of Vera that she fulfills her husband’s needs above all else. Carlos had always been a sports type, so Vera followed his active life, be it windsurfing, horseback riding, or camping. But she started competitive shooting alone, a male-dominated sport. In her whole sports career, she had to prove that she could be as good as anyone else, and better still. She was a middle-aged petite woman when she started shooting. But looks can be deceiving, as Vera was the first and only woman in the history of the Bianchi Cup to win eight National Women’s titles. She’s won two World titles and was the first woman to place in the overall top 20 at the Bianchi Cup.

Indeed, the memoir is full of Vera’s accomplishments throughout her shooting career. But, darker moments lay amid all of those moments of contentment, as they always do. Sudden tragedies, loved one’s betrayal, immense grief. They could have been setbacks to Vera’s life, professional and personal, but through her newfound faith in God, she had survived them all. Her persistence and determination never wavered but continued strong through all twists and turns of fate. 

This memoir is not one of a self-absorbed person, who wanted to put all their accomplishment on paper, but one of a humble woman, who wanted to share her hard-earned lessons with us. The writing is very simple, and it doesn’t portray Vera as a perfect mother, wife, or businesswoman. The book was exceptionally well-edited. Descriptions of the shooting were apprehensible, so, even as a person who hasn’t even held a gun before, I could easily imagine what was happening. Overall, it was hard to put the book down. The one thing that bothered me was the slight repetitiveness of phrases by the end of the book, but it didn’t greatly affect my reading flow.

I am happy to give this inspiring book 4 out of 4 stars . It proved again that there shouldn’t be any prejudices against race, gender, or age, nor should they be used as an excuse for not giving your best in everything you do. It made me want to be better, try harder, and never give up. There are no profanities nor erotic scenes. There are religious themes in the book, but I think everyone could read it since its lessons lay beyond religious identification. I would especially recommend it to people who found their calling in life but are facing difficulties, and to the ones who are still searching. Because ‘“Search for something you’re good at,” Vera says, “and it will take you far.”’

Original review of The Most Unlikely Champion can be found here.


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