A composite portrait that should appeal to the author’s fans.

WHERE THE PAST BEGINS

A WRITER'S MEMOIR

The bestselling author reflects on family, reading, writing, and language in a memoir characterized by “free-form spontaneity.”

After Tan published her last novel (The Valley of Amazement, 2013, etc.), her editor suggested that she compile a volume drawn from some of the thousands of emails she sent him during the time she wrote the book. It would be “easy to pull together,” he said, as well as “compelling” and “insightful.” Fortunately, Tan rejected that idea, although she does include one chapter containing a selection of emails between them, some of which offer glimpses of her writing process. The rest of her uneven memoir consists of “a potluck of topics and tone”: chapters about her response to music, the idea of genius, emotions, her own personality as “unstoppable,” learning to read, and her family. Readers of Tan’s previous fiction and nonfiction will find a familiar character: her mother, a difficult, moody woman who had an indelible influence on the author. “The main problem, as I saw it growing up,” Tan reflects, “is that she was negative in her thinking. She saw falsity in people who were nice. She saw slights in how people treated her.” Bad thoughts festered in her mind until they emerged “in an explosive threat” that blighted Tan’s life. A psychiatrist who knew her mother marveled that Tan didn’t suffer “from a disabling psychiatric disorder as an adult.” But she admits that her childhood experiences made her “intolerant of emotional manipulation.” Tan is forthcoming about various illnesses, especially her treatment for seizures with a medication that left her feeling unusually happy. When a friend suggested she stop taking the mood-altering drug, she resisted: “Whatever the medication had done to my brain, I had become protective of my new sympathetic nervous system friend.” Tan’s candid revelations make much of the book entertaining, but the slight journal entries and short pieces she calls “quirks” read like filler, and many chapters would have benefited from further editing.

A composite portrait that should appeal to the author’s fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-231929-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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