A potent journey of depression that effectively testifies to unbearable pain and the consolation of literature.

DEAR FRIEND, FROM MY LIFE I WRITE TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE

A Chinese-American fiction writer offers an intimate memoir of “darkest despair.”

In her fiction, Li (Creative Writing/Univ. of California, Davis; Kinder than Solitude, 2014, etc.), winner of multiple writing awards and a MacArthur Fellowship, has created bleak worlds inhabited by estranged, psychologically damaged characters who are haunted by their pasts. The author, who grew up in Beijing under an oppressive political regime and with an emotionally volatile, demanding mother, has resisted the idea that her work is autobiographical. “I never set out to write about melancholy and loneliness and despondency,” she writes. However, as she reveals in this bravely candid memoir, those emotions have beset her throughout her life, leading to a crisis during two horrifying years when she was twice hospitalized for depression and suicide attempts. Soon after Li came to the University of Iowa “as an aspiring immunologist,” she decided to give up science and enroll in the university’s famed graduate writing program. She was inspired, not surprisingly, by reading William Trevor, “among the most private writers,” whose stories gently evoke the lives of sad, solitary characters. Li’s abrupt career change included a decision to write in English, which led some to accuse her of rejecting her Chinese heritage. Others suggested that “in taking up another language one can become someone new. But erasing does not stop with a new language, and that, my friend, is my sorrow and my selfishness.” “Over the years my brain has banished Chinese,” she writes, in an effort to “be orphaned” from her past. Li frequently invokes writers—Katherine Mansfield, Stefan Zweig, Philip Larkin, Marianne Moore, Hemingway, and Turgenev—who “reflected what I resent in myself: seclusion, self-deception, and above all the need—the neediness—to find shelter from one’s uncertain self in other lives.” Her title comes from a notebook entry by Mansfield, which Li believes expresses her own reason for writing: to bridge the distance between her life and her reader’s.

A potent journey of depression that effectively testifies to unbearable pain and the consolation of literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-58909-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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

NIGHT

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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