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

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: Oct. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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

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