A thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving life story.

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STARVING SEASON

ONE PERSON'S STORY

Seng’s debut memoir is a portrait of survival, compassion, and triumph of the human spirit.

In 1975, the author was a fourth-year medical student in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge communist army decimated the Cambodian city. He and 23 family members were tortured and forced to work in labor camps, where, writes Seng, historians estimate that more than 1.7 million people died. In 1979, the remaining prisoners were freed, but Seng walked home alone, because—with the possible exception of one sister, whom he never saw again—his entire family had died. This gut-wrenching narrative aptly begins with a quote from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel’s book Night. Much like that story of the Jewish Holocaust experience, this account contains unforgettably nightmarish anecdotes—such as one in which the Khmer Rouge forced children to collect bones from corpses, crush them, and spread them like fertilizer. Also like Wiesel, Seng questions why God would allow such atrocities. However, this story of survival shimmers with hope. Determined to stay alive, Seng ate rats and volunteered for deeply unpleasant work—such as shoveling human feces—that might earn him extra food. Once freed, he and his future wife escaped by bicycle to a refugee camp in Thailand, where an American friend helped them immigrate to the United States. Seng’s page-turning prose is often poetic, as when he describes his family’s conversations about the Khmer Rouge as “rumors passing from person to person like butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom.” Richly detailed, vivid descriptions abound, and several bittersweet family photos add further emotion to already gripping scenes. (Seng includes a photo of his friend from the refugee camp, Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who won an Academy Award for his acting in the movie The Killing Fields.) Easy-to-follow footnotes complement the personal narrative for those unfamiliar with the Cambodian genocide; indeed, this book would work well in a college curriculum.

A thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving life story.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 165

Publisher: Lulu Publishing Services

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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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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