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INCONVENIENT MEMORIES

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF THE TIANANMEN SQUARE INCIDENT AND THE CHINA BEFORE AND AFTER

A moving recollection of personal and national identity.

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A woman recounts her upbringing in China as the country struggles to gain full entry into the modern world. 

Debut author Wang was born in China in 1966, and before she was 1 year old, her mother entrusted her to her grandmother, in whose care she would remain until she was 12. While the author lacked official status as a resident, her father managed to get her into a Beijing school, where she developed a lifelong love of reading, an avocation sometimes challenged by the widespread lack of electricity: “As the room grew dark, I would unconsciously move to the faintly stronger light of the window, to squeeze out every last bit of sunlight before I was finally defeated.” Wang attended Peking University from 1984 to 1988, the volatile years of social change and protest that ultimately climaxed with the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that she describes with impressive nuance. An unsuccessful microelectronics major, she later became a student of Chinese literature. The author lived on the dizzying precipice of two warring worlds: an older, more traditional version of China—her grandmother had endured the brutal practice of foot binding as a child—and one that yearned for the prosperity and sophistication of the West and experimented gingerly with an open market economy. She would later leave China—she pursued graduate work in the United States, had her second child in New Zealand, and finally settled in Vancouver, where she studied film.  Wang’s memoir artfully braids the personal and the political—she fits the arc of her own life into the trajectory of China’s tumultuous, often painful transition away from autocracy in a way that’s ultimately illustrative of both. Her China is an intellectually challenging one, filled with contradictions, intent on “opening up its economy while tightening its political control.” And while she of course laments those killed in Tiananmen Square, she also criticizes the “reckless and impatient” demonstrators (“We believed that change could come instantly in response to our protests”). The author’s remembrance can be overly detailed and as a result meandering, although her candor—her first unbelievably awkward sexual encounter involved a knife being pulled on her—is remarkable. Furthermore, she vividly and astutely paints the horizon within which Chinese popular angst emerged—the contest between a government humbled by foreign invasion and lack of progress, and a people furious with a lack of immediate reform and swelling inequality. But the most impressive feature of the account is its unwavering circumspection—even when denouncing totalitarianism, Wang is careful to chasten any hint of strident dogmatism in her judgment: “I believe that democracy and autocracy can never coexist in harmony. I believe that democracy works better than autocracy, though in the last thirty years or so, China’s economic development seems to argue otherwise.” This is an analytically rigorous and exceedingly thoughtful autobiography that intelligently chronicles the grand forces of history without ever forgetting about the lives caught up in them.

A moving recollection of personal and national identity. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9966405-7-2

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Purple Pegasus Inc.

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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