Grescoe exuberantly captures the glamour and intrigue of a lost world.

An intrepid journalist in free-wheeling 1930s Shanghai.

At that time, Shanghai was “one of the most cosmopolitan places on the face of the earth,” replete with “gin slings and sing-song girls, rickshaw coolies and Bolshevik spies.” It was a place, writes journalist Grescoe (Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, 2012, etc.) in this lively biography of a city and some of its colorful inhabitants, “to which the ambitious, the wily, and the desperate could escape to discard old identities and recreate their lives from scratch.” New Yorker writer Emily Hahn arrived there in 1935, intending to stay for two weeks. She fled, along with other expatriates, in 1943. Those eight years were filled with adventure, danger, love, and sex. She soon met the “free-spending playboy” and real estate mogul Sir Victor Sassoon, who had built, among many other edifices, the sumptuous Cathay Hotel, “the best address in the Far East.” He lived in its penthouse, where he entertained the rich, famous, and beautiful, such as the 30-year-old Hahn. Besides accepting gifts from Sir Victor, Hahn supported herself by reporting for a Shanghai newspaper, and soon she began to contribute pieces about exotic China to the New Yorker. Among them were “pen portraits” of a man she called Pan Heh-ven. He was Zau Sinmay, a famous poet—dashing, handsome, “fabulously wealthy”—and her lover. When he balked at being the subject of her “cultural stereotyping,” she was unapologetic: “I use people,” she said. Sinmay introduced her to smoking opium, which accelerated from “a harmless indulgence” to a 12-pipe-per-day addiction before she checked into a hospital for a cure. Hahn’s challenges intensified during the 13-week Battle of Shanghai in 1937, turbulent Chinese politics, and the Japanese occupation. The author deftly follows Hahn’s adventures through this “city of legend.”

Grescoe exuberantly captures the glamour and intrigue of a lost world.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-04971-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview