A historically astute, beautifully written portrait.




The biography of a woman haunted by her parents’ suffering as a result of the Armenian genocide.

Mary Zakarian was born in 1927 in Philadelphia, but her story begins well before that in Turkey, which her parents had called home. Her father, Moses, a musician and a weaver, departed Turkey in 1913 for the United States, leaving behind a wife and children who were killed in the 1915 genocide. Zakarian’s mother, Arek Kocharian, escaped to the U.S. in 1923 after her husband and two children also died during the genocide. An attempt at an arranged marriage between Arek and Zakar, Moses’ cousin, went awry, and Moses married her himself in 1924. When Zakarian was a young child during the Depression, Moses struggled to keep the family housed and fed. Even after their financial circumstances improved considerably, however, Zakarian was a witness and victim of their historical trauma. Arek was permanently alienated from the world—she never learned English, was deeply distrustful of others and scared of the outside world, and was prone to bouts of depression. Of Arek’s children, Zakarian was closest to her, and she adopted her fearful isolation. She never married or had kids and was plagued by anxiety and agoraphobia her entire life. But Zakarian was also a talented and ultimately successful artist. She earned considerable recognition for her painting in Philadelphia after attending several art schools, including the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, now renamed Moore College of Art and Design. She even opened an art school of her own in 1971, operated out of her home. Debut authors Allan and Susan Arpajian, the children of Zakarian’s sister, know the subject well and depict her candidly and lovingly—some of their portrait based on personal recollections and some on Zakarian’s journals and an unfinished autobiography. The authors depict Zakarian’s grim inheritance of sadness in poetically heartbreaking prose, capturing a life of suppressed guilt. Once Zakarian was reluctant to bring a particularly fetching fabric into the home because of this nagging torment: “ ‘I felt guilt and disloyalty to my mother’s pain.’ Having or enjoying beautiful things, or even engaging in a satisfying creative endeavor, was not for this daughter of a survivor.” While Zakarian’s extraordinary life, and particularly her attempt to transcend her trauma through her art, is the fulcrum of the story, the authors also ably reconstruct the history of Armenian tribulations and the resulting psychological scars. The Arpajians provide an impressively sensitive account of Zakarian’s Christianity, which was fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, it supplied some comforting reassurance, but on the other, it was more fuel for her guilt—her perceived shortcomings became sins. Despite the often melancholic subject matter, the biography is inspiriting. While it couldn’t be said that Zakarian triumphed over the emotional baggage that was her unfortunate bequest, she didn’t simply succumb to it either.

A historically astute, beautifully written portrait.

Pub Date: April 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4128-6417-6

Page Count: 188

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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