A disquieting reminder of the old maxim, “The dead can’t answer back.”

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FINDING IRIS CHANG

FRIENDSHIP, AMBITION, AND THE LOSS OF AN EXTRAORDINARY MIND.

An attempt to explain a friend’s baffling suicide.

Bestselling author Iris Chang was just 36 when she committed suicide—a fact which, perhaps even more than most suicides, surprised everyone who knew her. In the years prior to her death, Chang had written three highly acclaimed books, including 1997’s The Rape of Nanking, a story of Japanese atrocities in China which reopened heated dialogue around the world. She was happily married with a charming two-year-old son, and was, says Kamen, “the most envied, and enviable, person I knew. She achieved success, by all possible external measures, to the extreme and to an almost farcical extent…She was beautiful. She was thin.” Yet on November 9, 2004, Chang drove to a remote road, parked her car and shot herself in the head. Kamen (All in my Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache, 2005, etc.), who met Chang when the two were in college, when Chang was already an ambitious young reporter, was first driven to write an article about Chang’s death for Salon.com, and then, faced with waves of e-mails from readers asking the same questions she had about the death, the book. “I wondered if this was amoral, exploiting a friend’s tragic case for a book and possibly upsetting her grieving family,” she writes. “With some sensitivity, maybe I could be only minimally amoral.” To that end, the author is partially successful. Kamen dutifully delves into the larger issues of suicide and mental illness in Asian-American communities, and into the peculiar immigrant drive to succeed that seized Chang so forcefully at such a young age. She also brutally reports each way she feels that she might have betrayed her friend—including a devastating passage in which Kamen recounts ignoring Chang’s phone calls in the days prior to her suicide, and then reveals that one of the points in Chang’s “twenty-point plan to get Iris well” had been to “call friends—as a source of support.” Kamen draws an intriguing portrait of an enormously ambitious woman who appears to have worked very hard to craft her own image, and Chang herself haunts the book in the form of italicized letters and e-mails to friends and family. Yet the sense of invading a troubled woman’s privacy is hard to escape.

A disquieting reminder of the old maxim, “The dead can’t answer back.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-306-81466-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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