The life of China's aristocrats before the Revolution could be the subject of a fascinating account, but this complacent and...

SHANGHAI REMEMBRANCE

A rambling memoir of boyhood in a wealthy family in China before the Cultural Revolution.

Leo, who emigrated to the US and became an interior designer, recalls the mind-bogglingly privileged lifestyle his family enjoyed in the 1930s and 1940s. The early chapters offer intriguing descriptions of the luxurious family compound outside Changchow where he spent his infancy, though it seems unlikely that they are genuine memories. We barely glimpse the impoverished workers who made their masters' comforts possible; one passage casually describes servants cleaning the family's chamber pots "with detergent and handfuls of small clam shells, scrubbing them briskly with small bamboo whisks." There are hints of complicated relationships among the assorted characters peopling the households in Changchow and Shanghai, where Leo moved at the age of two. He lists various siblings, in-laws, and grandparents, but the descriptions are too generic to evoke distinct personalities or reflect generational or social differences. The author depicts the sexual shenanigans of the men, and the conflicts among their wives, mistresses, and prostitutes with gusto, but he offers no insight into the sexual politics that must have been involved and offers no social or cultural analysis whatsoever. Stripped of any larger cultural significance or context, the accounts of assorted catfights and recitals of the expensive clothes bought by the wives rapidly become tedious. Insulated by his parents' wealth, Leo barely acknowledges the Japanese occupation or the rise of Communism, and he offers more information about his grades in elementary school and his relatives' medical conditions than about the momentous historical events taking place. Even when Nationalist troops commandeer the family's residence, Leo observes only that "the troops ruined our lawn" and "the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms were also badly charred from the women cooking on them with kerosene stoves." It's hard to work up much sympathy.

The life of China's aristocrats before the Revolution could be the subject of a fascinating account, but this complacent and oblivious narrative isn't it.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-56167-596-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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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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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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