A poignant, relevant synthesis of cultural studies and true-crime drama.

THE BROKEN COUNTRY

ON TRAUMA, A CRIME, AND THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF VIETNAM

A compact, thoughtful debut addressing violence, immigrant identity, and the long shadow of the Vietnam War.

Rekdal (English/Univ. of Utah), who received the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, begins with a vicious attack in Salt Lake City by a homeless Vietnamese refugee, Kiet Thanh Ly, who stabbed random white men while shouting “You killed my people!” The author argues that the perpetrator represents a broader “disturbed appropriation of the war and its aftershocks.” “When I read about Ly’s case,” writes Rekdal, “some part of me saw his crime as a brutal way to counteract that invisibility, to kill the ideal that he could never achieve.” From there, she blends aspects of personal narrative with a consideration of the nature of survival, as experienced both by often traumatized refugees and by Ly’s victims, as well as a social history of how the Vietnamese re-established their own identities after trauma, both in Vietnam and in America, where nearly 1 million arrived in the postwar years. “To outsiders,” she writes, “the Vietnamese who resettled in the United States look like a success story continually in the making.” Yet, Rekdal argues that disturbing stories like that of Ly or the perpetrators of a grisly 1991 appliance-store massacre demonstrate that refugee trauma can be passed along biologically, as hypothesized about descendants of Holocaust survivors. The author effectively uses interviews with various people in constructing this discussion, including Ly’s victims and other refugees who knew Ly before the attack. One noted that the community’s difficult experiences “came not from war or relocation, but from the long and sometimes failed process of assimilation.” Her writing about Vietnam (where she traveled) as a newly evolved environment and her family’s experience with identity in the face of war (an uncle won a Bronze Star in Vietnam) all feels authentic and effective, although her discussion of the violent flashpoint at the book’s center could use a clearer interpretive focus.

A poignant, relevant synthesis of cultural studies and true-crime drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8203-5117-9

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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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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