An eloquent and affecting multigenerational memoir.

FAMILY IN SIX TONES

A REFUGEE MOTHER, AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER

An acclaimed Vietnamese-born novelist and her U.S.–born daughter tell the story of their complex relationship and their lives in America.

Cao fled Vietnam for the U.S. in 1975, when she was 13. In 2002, she gave birth to the daughter, Harlan, who made her realize she was no longer a lone survivor but rather a new entity comprised of “two beings entwined.” In this co-authored story, Cao and Van Cao speak in alternating sections about their experiences in America. Cao writes about being a cultural outsider haunted by excruciating memories of Vietnam that resurfaced after the birth of her daughter. While Van Cao also saw herself as "separated" from others, it was partly because she could "see sounds and feel letters and taste smells.” It was also because the overprotective refugee mother who held her hand until she was 11 or 12 had conditioned her "to survive" by taking her to taekwondo classes and pushing her to excel in everything from academics to music. What makes this memoir especially compelling is the way these two separate but linked perspectives illuminate silences or gaps in the stories each woman tells. For example, Cao's probing but emotionally restrained narrative focuses on the facts of her remarkable life: early life in war-torn Vietnam, resettlement in Virginia, college at Mount Holyoke, corporate law work in New York City, marriage to a Duke law professor. By contrast, Van Cao uses her distance from Vietnam to talk openly about her mother's "shadow selves" that emerged in the aftermath of war trauma, elements that Cao only hints at in her own narrative. As it celebrates the mother-daughter bond, this book reveals the added complexities that bring together refugee mothers and their American children while also maintaining a certain unbridgeable distance.

An eloquent and affecting multigenerational memoir.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984878-16-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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