An energetic memoir that captures the collision between an open-hearted iconoclast and a free-market totalitarian state.

CRASHING THE PARTY

AN AMERICAN REPORTER IN CHINA

Passionate account of an American journalist witnessing China’s pro-Western awakening and the authoritarian pushback.

Savitt, the in-house Chinese-English translator for the New York Times, opens with a dramatic tableau of his own experience in 2000 as a hunger-striking detainee. He then rewinds the narrative to his arrival in 1983 as one of China’s first cross-cultural exchange students, traveling from Duke University to Beijing Teacher’s College. He was enthralled by a society encountering its first new freedoms. “The Chinese have had every aspect of their lives dictated to them for decades,” he writes. “Now they’re collectively removing their shackles and a vibrant society is sprouting up between the cracks of grey official Communist culture.” Handling China’s still-intense restrictions with a chipper optimism, he quickly made friends in an embryonic circle of musicians, bohemians, and academics, many of whom would later gravitate toward the pro-democracy movement. Such social mixing was frowned upon by the authorities, but Savitt’s language and networking abilities advanced his journalistic career. At age 25, he became a UPI correspondent, in time to witness the infamous crackdown on the long-simmering progressive movement in Tiananmen Square, which he portrays in a grim, exciting set piece suggesting that greater brutality occurred than the West knew. Jumping forward to 1993, as online culture was just beginning, Savitt founded an unsanctioned English-language newspaper, assured by his connections that the Communist Party would take a “one eye open, one eye closed” attitude toward such a rebellious endeavor. While this proved true for a while, he was eventually arrested and treated brutally for not informing on his native-born colleagues. Savitt portrays such gritty adventures with an incongruously cheerful tone; he’s observant of every level of everyday life as China lurched toward state-monitored prosperity. Some narrative jumps lessen his tale’s overall coherence, and it ends abruptly, with Savitt unceremoniously expelled and no resolution of the newspaper’s drama.

An energetic memoir that captures the collision between an open-hearted iconoclast and a free-market totalitarian state.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59376-652-8

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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