A book that offers great clarity on an important subject without succumbing to oversimplification.

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HANGING MAN

THE ARREST OF AI WEIWEI

A British journalist with considerable experience in China illuminates the significance of artist and activist Ai Weiwei and his embodiment of cultural upheaval.

In a good way, this reads like an extended magazine article written for a general readership. Martin presents a profile of the artist based on illicit interviews with Weiwei following his release from 81 days of imprisonment on inscrutable charges, while providing context on the political and cultural developments that have informed his art. The plainspoken lucidity of the prose transcends the murk of so much arts criticism and political theorizing, as the author recognizes that many readers won’t be familiar with the artist’s career and the specifics of Communist Party repression in China. “I had been toying with the idea of writing a book about modern China that would use an account of Ai Weiwei’s life as its backbone,” writes Martin, employing the first-person narrative that initially seems intrusive but ultimately enhances the conversational tone. “His life and that of his father, Ai Qing, one of China’s most famous twentieth-century poets, are so intertwined with the great people and events of modern Chinese history that any biographical account would necessarily touch on the main historical events of the post-imperial epoch.” And so this book does, though it is less than a full-scale biography and more of a series of interviews, with the secret police frequently hovering, augmented by the author’s visits with other Chinese dissidents. Weiwei emerges as not only a great disciple of Duchamp and Dada, bridging the totalitarianism of Chairman Mao and Warhol’s Mao, but also a brave activist using his art and advocacy to inspire cultural revolution: “Weiwei’s experience had given him an almost evangelical zeal: he wanted to change China by changing its ideas about art.”

A book that offers great clarity on an important subject without succumbing to oversimplification.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-16775-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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UNTAMED

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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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