Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind

Overview

Iris Chang’s mysterious suicide in 2004, at age thirty-six, didn’t seem to make any sense. She had so much to live for, including fame, fortune, beauty, and a husband and child. Some even wondered if the controversial author of The Rape of Nanking had been murdered. Longtime 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 memory and scoured Chang’s letters and ...

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Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind

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Overview

Iris Chang’s mysterious suicide in 2004, at age thirty-six, didn’t seem to make any sense. She had so much to live for, including fame, fortune, beauty, and a husband and child. Some even wondered if the controversial author of The Rape of Nanking had been murdered. Longtime 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 memory and scoured Chang’s letters and diaries to fill in the gaps of Chang’s personal transformation—from “ex-shy person” to world-class speaker and international rights pioneer—and her later decline into mental illness. The result is a “riveting narrative that is part detective story, part psychological drama, part homage to a friend” (Helen Zia).

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Editorial Reviews

BookPage
This detached, casually brutal honesty pervades much of the book-a quality that, while seemingly callous to employ in an homage to friendship, ironically drives this book to expose the unique genius and creativity of Chang, the far-reaching effects of her persistent social activism and, sadly, the relentless escalation of the bipolar disorder that impelled her to suicide.
The Asian Reporter
Kamen provides an intimate and respectful consideration of Iris Chang that gives the reader a better grasp of Chang's flawed humanity....Beyond that, Kamen provides some context to Chang's life and slide into mental illness...A valuable book because of its handling of mental illness in general, and specifically for its insight into mental illness in the Asian community.
Publishers Weekly

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 exposé in The Rape of Nankingof 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)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Kamen's biography examines the life of writer and historian Iris Chang (The Rape of Nanking), who, at age 36, committed suicide. Kamen, a friend of Chang's, questions whether Chang could separate herself from the atrocities about which she wrote. The author wonders what signs she missed concerning the depth of depression that prompted Chang to take her own life. She interviewed a wide range of people who knew Chang; her professors, friends, sorority sisters, and fellow journalists attested to Chang's intensity and perfectionism, her muckraking journalistic style, her craving for accomplishment, and her desire for others to take notice of her and her work. Overall, Bernadette Dunne is a capable narrator, save for a mispronunciation of "Illini," in reference to Chang's writing for The Daily Illini newspaper at the University of Illinois. Not an easy work to listen to given the gravity of the subject matter, Finding Iris Chang is an important exploration of the fine line between genius and madness that afflicts so many exemplary writers. Recommended for larger public libraries. [Also available as downloadable audio from Audible.com.-Ed.]
—Lisa Powell Williams

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306817533
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 12/8/2008
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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. She lives in Chicago.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Questions vii

Chapter 1 What Did They Say Happened to Iris? 1

Chapter 2 What Did She Symbolize? 33

Chapter 3 Were There Earlier Signs? 61

Chapter 4 Why in the World Did She Run for Homecoming Court? 81

Chapter 5 Who Inspired Her? 109

Chapter 6 What Did She Tell Me, as a Primary Source? 137

Chapter 7 What Did Her Friends Observe in Those Last Years? 153

Chapter 8 What Happened in California? 171

Chapter 9 What Were Her Demons? 201

Chapter 10 Just Because You're Paranoid, Does That Mean They Still Aren't Out to Get You? 227

Afterword: Who Were the Villains? 265

Acknowledgments 279

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