A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.



A high school Latin teacher and tattoo artist’s memoir about immigrating to small-town America from Vietnam and learning to fit in through reading, skateboarding, and punk rock.

Tran and his parents fled Saigon as war refugees in 1975, and they eventually settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There, they became the lone Asians in a town that “offered all the rainbows of Caucasia.” Local children taunted Tran throughout childhood while neighbors and co-workers saw his parents as amusing curiosities or “symbols of a painful and confusing war…of the people who had shot at them and killed their friends, brothers, and sons.” As he neared adolescence, Tran decided that he could solve his problems by trying to “be less Asian.” First, he developed “social Teflon” by earning top grades in all his classes, deciding that he “would take nerd props over no props at all.” He further learned to deemphasize his otherness by joining the skateboarding subculture as a young teen and adopting a punk persona. Even though he was a good student, however, the author sometimes came up short of parental expectations for perfection, with excruciatingly painful results. During his junior year of high school, he stumbled across a guide to classic literary texts touted as “the foundation for being ‘all-American.’ ” Eager to assimilate, Tran immersed himself in works like The Metamorphosis and The Importance of Being Earnest. He became more self-reflective and developed an unexpected passion for books, which he highlights by naming each chapter after a favorite work of literature (Madame BovaryPygmalion, etc.). At the suggestion of a history teacher, Tran read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which heightened his awareness of white racism toward Asians and of the racism he saw in his own father toward blacks. Funny, poignant, and unsparing, Tran’s sharp, sensitive, punk-inflected memoir presents one immigrant’s quest for self-acceptance through the lens of American and European literary classics.

A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-19471-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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