Winding tale of a dysfunctional family that eventually addresses the somewhat famous disturbance and its aftermath.


Forty Bibles and Forty Dictionaries

Dedicated to her “irascible parents” from Korea, Kang’s debut memoir examines her childhood in Australia.

The author is the sister of David Kang, an Australian lawyer who, in 1994, fired blanks at Prince Charles in protest of the treatment of Cambodians in detention. Writing may have been cathartic, but Kang’s view of Brother, as she calls him, seems a mix of anger, animosity and admiration that he took a stand on principle. Inferences could be made about the deleterious effects of a dysfunctional family and Kang’s purported mental illness, but the circumstances of “the affray” are a long time coming. Though the story isn’t always told in chronological order, it is, on occasion, true to topic, as in Chapter 20, “Jackaling,” which delves into the paranormal. Some recollections are extremely brief: For instance, in one short recollection, the author describes watching her father develop photos. Perhaps not surprisingly, the parents, particularly “Mother,” are portrayed as incubators of trouble. An attractive young woman, Mother was fixated on marrying Father despite his disinterest and a warning from a Chinese astrologer. Soon, Father realized he had made a mistake, but due to pregnancy—Mother was carrying the author—the two remained together, providing an emotionally unstable home life in which intellectual expression was encouraged. Disparate vignettes, including a tale of mice invading their home, illustrate family dynamics but significantly delay what purports to be the main event, the incident with Prince Charles. The story becomes more focused in later chapters, in which Brother engages in various unsavory activities without adequate reprimand or reprisal, including writing letters to the editor that he attributes to unsuspecting family members. The dominant presence of Mother pervades. Her vicious verbal attacks, particularly on Father, were relentless and embarrassing. Eventually, the narrative takes a political turn, touching on racism and discrimination, and the author emerges as a wounded, alienated woman of intelligence and insight. There are periodic asides about members of the royal family, and the disjointed book ends, curiously, with recipes for Korean dishes. A fractured childhood may indeed yield a fractured memoir.

Winding tale of a dysfunctional family that eventually addresses the somewhat famous disturbance and its aftermath.

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1922238016

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Horizon Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?