Directs the lights of emotion and intelligence on a country where ignorance is far from bliss.

WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US

MY TIME WITH THE SONS OF NORTH KOREA'S ELITE

A novelist and freelance journalist relates her experiences, both grim and gratifying, as an English teacher in a small North Korean university.

Kim (The Interpreter, 2003) was undercover, teaching with a group of devout Christians bent on conversions, a group she managed to deceive successfully, her more liberal views emerging most patently during a debate about showing a Harry Potter film to her classes. She also deceived her North Korean hosts, privately keeping a journal—which, feeling paranoid, she stored on multiple flash drives concealed in her room and on her person. But her deception allows her to tell a most enlightening tale about the North Korean darkness. The author spent her childhood in South Korea and immigrated to the United States when she was 13. Although she shared the Korean language with her students, as an English teacher, she (and her superiors) insisted on English-only with them, and it’s not until the end that—at their request—she addressed them in Korean. Kim keeps our focus on a number of issues: the abject poverty of people she sees outside the school; the absolute devotion of the North Korean media to Kim Jong-il (whose death in 2011 frames Kim’s story); the feelings of paranoia she experienced; her periodic bouts of depression about being in such an intellectually and otherwise stale environment; the ignorance of her students (most were very bright) about history, geography, technology and cultural differences; and the inability to acquire all but the most basic consumer goods. But she also repeatedly reports her deep affection for the young men she taught (there were no female students) and her profound worries about their futures. A few minor quibbles: She occasionally slides into cliché (“weak in the knees”) and records perhaps too many student comments praising her teaching skills.

Directs the lights of emotion and intelligence on a country where ignorance is far from bliss.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0307720658

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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