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

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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