HAPPY BIRTHDAY OR WHATEVER

TRACK SUITS, KIM CHEE, AND OTHER FAMILY DISASTERS

A debut offering tedious recollections of childhood.

Choi has strung together 13 essays about growing up in a tight-knit Korean-American family. The title piece is a meandering account of how Choi spent her 27th birthday: alone. All of her friends bailed on her, and her parents forgot to call. Then Choi moves to “Animals,” a meditation about her childhood and adolescent love of teddy bears, squishy lobsters and other stuffed animals. “Spelling B” is a light-hearted examination of her parents’ obsession with academic excellence: As Choi’s mother said, the parents’ job was to provide for their kids, and the kids’ job was to go to Harvard. Characteristically, this essay ends on a confusing note. Having recounted her less-than-triumphant performance in a school spelling bee, Choi—who holds an MFA from Columbia—describes her nightly study of “exotic and challenging words. My favorite was ytterbium. I wondered what it meant.” (Does she imagine that this sounds profound?) Throughout, the author focuses on common battles between girls and their mothers, arguments over clothes and diet. Unfortunately, in her hands, these fights are little more than trite set pieces. The titles of the essays are exceedingly cutesy—the reflection about the onset of Choi’s menses is called “Period Piece.” Still, there are a few redeeming moments. Choi’s meditation about her mother’s breast cancer is tender, and her discussion of the pressure she feels to get married is laugh-out-loud funny. Choi uses dialogue to good effect, though even that faint praise must be tempered, as her rendition of her mother’s broken English—“You make Mommy so tire!”—quickly gets old.

Lackluster.

Pub Date: April 3, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-113222-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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