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Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mindby Paula Kamen
Synopses & Reviews
A friend and confidante reveals the private Iris Chang — the woman behind the international celebrity and bold personality — and attempts to understand Chang's terrible psychological decline.
Iris Chang's mysterious suicide in 2004, at age thirty-six, didn't seem to make any sense. She had more to live for than anyone, including fame, fortune, beauty, a husband, and child. Some even wondered if the controversial author of the Rape of Nanking had been murdered.
Long-time friend Paula Kamen was among those left wondering what had gone so wrong. Seeking to reconcile the suicide with the image of Chang's "perfect" life, Kamen searched her own memory and scoured Chang's letters, diaries, and archival material to fill in the gaps of Chang's personal transformation-from awkward teen to homecoming princess in college, from "ex-shy person" to world-class speaker and international human rights pioneer — and later decline into mental illness and paranoia. A literary investigation of an important writer's journey, Finding Iris is a tribute to a lost heroine, a portrait of the real and vulnerable woman who inspired so many around the world.
"Bestselling author Iris Chang's 2004 suicide at age 36 so shocked friends and colleagues that some initially claimed that Japanese extremists had murdered her to avenge Chang's acclaimed expos in The Rape of Nanking of atrocities against Chinese civilians perpetrated by Japanese invaders in 1937 — 1938. Lacking the artistry of Ann Patchett's recent portrait of her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy, this effort by Kamen (All in My Head) is a tedious, obsessive, exploitative effort, drawing on her Salon.com eulogy to Chang. Kamen, who had known Chang since college, repeats some of the far-fetched, irresponsible conspiracy theories before settling on the sad truth that Chang, suffering from bipolar disorder, shot herself in the head with an antique pistol after much planning. Kamen describes her admiration for and jealousy of her 'rival,' Chang's grating ambitiousness and the first-generation American's attempts at being a 'real' American, epitomized by her campaign to be college homecoming queen. Kamen also probes the stigma of mental illness in the Asian-American community, Chang's sense of guilt over her son's autism, her veneer of perfection and the deterioration of her mental state. Despite its flaws, this could find a sizable audience among those Chinese-Americans who lionized Chang. 60,000 first printing. (Nov. 9)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A rewardingly complex portrait of a driven and troubled woman." Kirkus Reviews
"Offers the same meticulous attention to detail and thorough immersion in primary sources that distinguishes Chang's exhaustively researched books." Chicago Reader
"A nuanced portrait of a brilliant but troubled person." Associated Press
"[A] detached, casually brutal honesty pervades much of the book — a quality that...drives this book to expose the unique genius and creativity of Chang...and, sadly, the relentless escalation of the bipolar disorder that impelled her to suicide." BookPage
"[An] engrossing inquiry...illuminating on many points....The book is fascinating....[Kamen] is laudably honest." Chicago Tribune
"A more personal journey into her friend's life might have tightened a few baggy wrinkles.... Kamen's failure to flesh out her own complex feelings suggests that...Chang still casts an imposing adumbration." Los Angeles Times
"[A] heartfelt, but ultimately unilluminating, piece of journalism, in which the author tries diligently to peer under all the rocks but seems unequipped to analyze the admittedly cryptic clues she finds there." San Francisco Chronicle
The mysterious suicide of Iris Chang, author of Rape of Nanking, left many wondering what had gone so wrong. Seeking to reconcile the suicide with the image of Chang's perfect life, Kamen scoured Chang's letters, diaries, and archival material to trace the author's personal transformation and her decline into mental illness and paranoia.
A friend and confidante reveals the private Iris Chang-the woman behind the international celebrity and bold personality-and attempts to understand Changs terrible psychological decline
About the Author
Paula Kamen is the author of All in My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache. Her commentaries have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Chicago.
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