A moving recollection of personal and national identity.




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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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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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 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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