Poignant, provocative, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Pung’s rollicking tale of two worlds is not to be missed.

UNPOLISHED GEM

MY MOTHER, MY GRANDMOTHER, AND ME

An Australian writer grapples with her Asian heritage.

First published in Australia in 2006, Pung’s wry debut memoir depicts the struggles and successes multiple generations of her family experienced in their migration—much of it on foot—from Cambodia’s killing fields through Vietnam and a refugee camp in Thailand to a suburb of Melbourne, where the author was born soon after their arrival in 1981. “I was manufactured in Thailand but assembled in Australia,” she writes, and the crux of her story centers on the challenges she faced as a girl growing up in a culture completely foreign to her parents and elders yet native to her. Pung is fascinated by the immigrant realities of adaptation and assimilation, processes she lived through painfully but often triumphantly as a young girl. She developed her sense of self with one foot testing the comparatively laid-back standards of Australian society and the other planted in the tradition-bound soil of her family’s ethnic Chinese roots. With a painter’s eye for detail and the heightened sensibility of someone caught between lands, Pung poignantly describes the contrasts of her family’s brave new world: “The refugees staying at the Midway Migrant Hilton hoard packets of sugar, jam and honey from the breakfast table. So used to everything being finite, irrevocably gone if one does not grab it fast enough, they are bewildered when new packets appear on the breakfast table the next day.” Perhaps the most intriguing transformation she notes is assimilated immigrants’ attitude toward the newly arrived. “We felt pity and resentment and plenty of embarrassment for their eagerness and their countryside errors. But most of all, unacknowledged envy of their pure, rooted-to-the-moment, every-day-is-a-wonderland existence, because it reminded us of a distant self we once were, we of the wide-eyed, shut-mouth stupor, we of the wide-mouth, shut-eyed delirium, when things were louder and funnier and lettuce was greener and gleaming concrete seemed newer.”

Poignant, provocative, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Pung’s rollicking tale of two worlds is not to be missed.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-452-29000-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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