Accidental Blooms

By Keiko Honda

Categories: Memoir
Imprint: Caitlin Press
Paperback : 9781773861210, 160 pages, October 2023

A profound personal story of loss and upheaval, self-discovery and healing, Accidental Blooms is a deeply moving memoir celebrating the unpredictable beauty of life.


Keiko Honda is living a successful, busy life as a scientist of cancer epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City when one morning she abruptly loses all strength in her legs. She phones a friend to care for her twenty-month-old daughter and rushes to the hospital. Within hours, she can barely breathe. She soon discovers she is permanently paralyzed from the chest down due to a rare autoimmune disease with a frequency of approximately one case per million per year. Suddenly, she’s that one. As Keiko struggles for life, she learns through lived experience the importance of community to healing, one of her prior research interests at Columbia. 

Seeking a wheelchair-accessible home closer to nature in which to raise her daughter, Keiko moves to Vancouver, Canada. She starts hosting informal artist salons, forms a mutually supportive group of artists and art-loving neighbours and then, surprisingly, becomes an artist herself. While her illness forced her departure from a career she spent twelve years building, it would ultimately provide the opportunity to live a life dedicated to community, friendship and art, as well as the continually evolving process of self-discovery as a mother, Japanese immigrant, survivor and artist.

When painting with watercolours, artists sometimes produce unintentional, unpredictable eruptions of colour that flow from one region to another across a too-wet surface. Keiko feels a camaraderie with these “accidental blooms,” as she calls them, because she, too, has had to plunge across unfamiliar borders and discovered beauty along the way. Accidental Blooms is a story of profound transformation that demonstrates how tragedy can teach one to see anew.


“In particularly moving scenes in this book, the author traverses her world in a motorized wheelchair, her young daughter on her lap, or a collection of flowers so large she has to strain to see. She is fearless, joyful, and the great beauty we imagine radiates to everyone around her. This book feels the same. It bravely covers large, complicated ground, carrying her stunning watercolors in its pages. Honda shows us how brilliantly the mind and spirit can stretch and flower, can contain and reconcile disparate and difficult truths.”

—Catherine E. McKinley, curator, author of The African Lookbook and A Letter from Home

“Keiko Honda is sharing much more than a memoir. She is sharing a philosophy of love and care in a time of anxiety and uncertainty. She shares a journey of possibilities when adversity strikes with life-altering challenges. This book is both an evocation as well as an example of ‘seeing with the heart.’ Our world is a better place for Keiko Honda’s generous gift(s).”

—Bernard Perley, associate professor for Critical Indigenous Studies, UBC