The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond The Rape of Nanking: A Memoir

Overview

A moving, illuminating memoir about the life of world-famous author and historian, Iris Chang, as told by her mother.
Iris Chang's best-selling book The Rape of Nanking forever changed the way we view the Second World War in Asia. It all began with a photo of a river choked with the bodies of hundreds of Chinese civilians that shook Iris to her core. Who were these people? Why had this happened and how could their story have been lost to ...
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Overview

A moving, illuminating memoir about the life of world-famous author and historian, Iris Chang, as told by her mother.
Iris Chang's best-selling book The Rape of Nanking forever changed the way we view the Second World War in Asia. It all began with a photo of a river choked with the bodies of hundreds of Chinese civilians that shook Iris to her core. Who were these people? Why had this happened and how could their story have been lost to history? She could not shake that image from her head. She could not forget what she had seen.
A few short years later, Chang revealed this "second Holocaust" to the world. The Japanese atrocities against the people of Nanking were so extreme that a Nazi party leader based in China actually petitioned Hitler to ask the Japanese government to stop the massacre. But who was this woman that single-handedly swept away years of silence, secrecy and shame?
Her mother, Ying-Ying, provides an enlightened and nuanced look at her daughter, from Iris' home-made childhood newspaper, to her early years as a journalist and later, as a promising young historian, her struggles with her son's autism and her tragic suicide. The Woman Who Could Not Forget cements Iris' legacy as one of the most extraordinary minds of her generation and reveals the depth and beauty of the bond between a mother and daughter.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Why did the brave, brilliant author of The Rape of Nanking, a groundbreaking study of Japan's brutal occupation of the city, commit suicide in 2004, at age 36? Her mother, Ying-Ying Chang, a Harvard-trained biochemist, wants to give an accounting of her daughter's life and the events leading up to her death. But this plodding chronicle is weighted with such details as why her daughter was named "Iris" and Iris's participation in a homecoming parade. Still, Iris's perseverance in pursuing goals, including writing her book, comes through. Despite providing ample evidence that Iris was in serious mental distress—e-mails cited here; her fear that her son was autistic (though he was too young to be diagnosed); her hair falling out "in clumps in the shower" when writing about Nanking—Ying-Ying gives some credence to a possible conspiracy, perhaps by Japanese right-wing extremists. (Iris reported being threatened during her book tour.) But primarily she blames the psychotropic medications Iris was taking for her depression. Moving as Ying-Ying's account is, this still mystifying tale calls for a journalistic account that would be more definitive and less defensive. 24 pages of b&w photos. (May)
The Atlantic
“The Woman Who Could Not Forget, a new biography by her mother, Ying-Ying Chang, provides new insights into the pressures that the world put on Iris, who as the author of the late 1990s best seller The Rape of Nanking came not only to fear for her own safety but for that of her loved ones.”
The Globe and Mail
“Theirs is a story of love for their star child and a search for answers to her shocking demise. It’s clear in the memoir, which includes many of the long, passionate letters Ms. Chang wrote to her parents, that she was driven to make her mark on history.”
Vancouver Observer
“To (Iris’s) mother, Dr. Ying-Ying Chang, a Harvard trained research scientist, the death of Iris has made her question about the meaning of her own existence. She searches for answers by documenting her memories of Iris in a new book, The Woman Who Could Not Forget.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Ying-Ying had accomplished what she set out to do. Iris Chang will not be forgotten.”
San Jose Mercury News
“The memoir's introduction is by Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer
Prize-winning author, who was impressed by the determination of Chang's mother to celebrate her daughter's life.”
The Wall Street Journal
“A poignant tribute of hard work and grit. The strong bond between mother and daughter is clear. The Woman Who Could Not Forget ultimately isn't a sad story, but rather the celebration of Iris' remarkable life.”
Georgia Strait
“Ying-Ying’s book contains numerous letters written by Iris. This correspondence reveals a brilliant and often work-obsessed young woman who loved her mother. In an emotional aside, Ying-Ying confessed that she could never have written her book had it not been for her daughter’s constant refrain that one person can make a difference.”
Jim Lehrer
“Iris Chang was a history hero. She discovered, researched and told a story of horror that otherwise would have been unknown and ignored by the world. And she lived a life that was shortened by her own horrors which her mother, Ying-Ying Chan, has chronicled in a caring and graceful memoir that also deserves wide attention. The Woman Who Could Not Forget is a moving, superb book.”
Richard Rhodes
“In this brave memoir, you will share in the celebration of a life, allowing us to experience her presence again. Full of courage and conviction, full of life.”
Ted Leonsis
“An intimate portrait of a brilliant historian and a beloved daughter.”
Simon Winchester
“This is a brave and serious book, a worthy memorial to a brave and serious daughter.”
Theresa Chao
“With her motherly wisdom, perseverance and courage, no wonder Ying-Ying could produce a daughter such as Iris Chang who could write the book The Rape of Nanking. A moving memoir reveals the profound caring and loving bond between a mother and a daughter.” ”
Mo Hayder
“Distressing and poignant,
yet ultimately inspirational. Iris Chang's courage, her tenacity and conviction reverberate through this excellent biography.”
Amy Chua
“The Woman Who Could Not Forget is the most moving and powerful book I've read in the last ten years. I stayed up all night reading it—I could not put it down. It's about an extraordinary woman whose legacy lives on, but it's also a heartbreaking mother-daughter love story. After all the sensationalist media speculation, it was shocking to learn the truth. This book holds more than one important lesson for us all.”
David Henry Hwang
“Ying-Ying Chang celebrates the life and legacy of her extraordinary daughter in this courageous and moving memoir. Iris Chang changed the world by empowering memories. In these heartfelt pages, Prof. Chang's own memories advance the cause of justice to which Iris devoted her life.”
Helen Zia
“This beautiful and courageous memoir is the gift of a mother’s love and has a storyteller’s fine detail and is told with heartfelt honesty. Ying Ying
Chang’s moving insights help us to better understand the triumphs and travails and the life and suicide of her beloved warrior-daughter Iris.”
Thekla Lit
“The Woman Who Could Not Forget is a must read if you want to personally experience the spirit of dedication and determination and sense of justice of Iris Chang.”
Dr. Joseph Y. K. Wong
“Iris Chang almost single-handedly unearthed the unspeakable atrocities committed by the
Japanese Imperial Army in Nanking, shocking the world. Now, Ying Ying's book reveals the details about the events that shaped Iris to be a fighter for justice. She shows Iris as a student, as a daughter, and as a human being with emotions and human weaknesses, so we can further understand Iris as the person whose short existence of 36 years contributed so immensely to humanity.
Tremendously touching and moving.”
Ignatius Y. Ding
“ "The Power of One” was Iris’ credo. She was a caring human rights champion and spoke from her heart and soul. The Woman Who Could Not Forget is an insightful book, a great gift from her mother to the public to honor the memory of her beloved daughter.”
Eamonn Fingleton
“Iris Chang showed elemental courage in challenging some of the world's most formidable vested interests. Here finally is the biography she deserves. Suffused with love, this book is a powerfully written page-turner that will touch the heart of every reader.”
James Bradley
“My eulogy to Iris Chang is found in the appendix of this book.
Read the eulogy and you'll understand the global significance of Iris and her work. Read this book by her mother and you will know her as the courageous woman she was.”
The Wall Street Journal - The Wall Street Journal
“A poignant tribute of hard work and grit. The strong bond between mother and daughter is clear. The Woman Who Could Not Forget ultimately isn't a sad story, but rather the celebration of Iris' remarkable life.”
David Henry Hwang
“Ying-Ying Chang celebrates the life and legacy of her extraordinary daughter in this courageous and moving memoir. Iris Chang changed the world by empowering memories. In these heartfelt pages, Prof. Chang's own memories advance the cause of justice to which Iris devoted her life.”
Library Journal
Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II was published in 1997—her aim, to keep the world from forgetting the Japanese war crimes of 1937 in the second Sino-Japanese War. Her mother now presents her own memoir so that the world will not forget her daughter's life or misunderstand her suicide in 2004. She chronicles in perhaps too much detail Iris's growing up and her career ambitions. More commanding is the day-by-day narrative of Iris's indefatigable research, her campaign to promote and defend each of her three published books, and her struggle to balance career and family. Her mother acknowledges rumors of threats from Japanese right wingers and cannot help feeling that her daughter was under grave psychological stress from dealing with gruesome subjects. In the end, however, after an assiduous account of Iris's medical travails, she reports, "I believe Iris' suicide was caused by her medications," which had been prescribed in an attempt to stabilize her moods. VERDICT The writing here is sometimes flat, but the sincerity of the story will appeal to Iris Chang's many fans and followers.—Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews

A life of the brilliant journalist and historian Iris Chang, who committed suicide in 2004, as told by her admiring mother.

In less than ten years, Iris Chang published three groundbreaking and critically acclaimed histories:Thread of the Silkworm (1995), about the creator of China's Cold War missile program; The Rape of Nanking (1997), which exposed the atrocities committed by Japan against China during World War II; and The Chinese in America (2003), a wide-ranging immigrant cultural history. The intensity of her research and the respect those books earned would have made them the highlights of a long career. But Chang was only 36 when she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, leaving behind a husband and young son. In assembling this biography, Chang's mother is more interested in praising her daughter's accomplishments than contemplating her death, though there's no question the accomplishments are worthy of a full narrative. Chang's parents were both academic scientists, but at an early age she was attracted to literature instead; by the time she attended journalism school at the University of Illinois, she'd developed a hard-charging, hardworking persona that quickly opened doors for her. TheNew York Timesused her as a stringer but eventually told her to ease up on submitting articles, for fear it was acquiring too many central-Illinois datelines. The story is brightened by generous excerpts from Chang's letters to her parents, which reveal what a voracious reader, tireless researcher and attentive daughter she was. But this book is ultimately hagiography. As a grieving mother, she's forgiven such indulgences, but her instinct to reflexively praise frustrates in the closing chapters, in which she overlooks signs of her daughter's overwork and flatly blames antidepressants as the cause of Iris' rapid depression and suicide.

Nobody could expect objectivity from this book, but Chang's perspective on her daughter seems willfully narrow.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605981727
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 5/15/2011
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 346,788
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ying-Ying Chang is the mother of Iris Chang. She has a PhD from Harvard in biochemistry and was a research associate professor of microbiology at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with her husband, Shau-Jin, a physics professor. She lives in San Jose, California and is on the board of the Iris Change Memorial Fund.

Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-three books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award; and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, which was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in San Francisco.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2011

    A beautiful memoir by the only person who can shed light on Iris Chang's whole life

    "To give a voice to the voiceless and to live her life for others" was the essence of Iris Chang's life. In her beautiful memoir "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond 'The Rape of Nanking'," Dr. Ying-Ying Chang, Iris' mother, used her intimate knowledge of her daughter and extensive collections of letters, emails, and conversations between mother and daughter to reconstruct Iris' short but courageous life and her tragic death. Iris' book "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II" almost single-handedly retrieved the Rape of Nanking from the forgotten attic of history and placed it in the forefront of international political discourse. She gave voice to the thousands and thousands of victims. She endured suffering in her own life and unjustified attacks from the ultra-right wing in Japan, as well as in the U.S. Ultimately she gave her own life so that others' lives can be enriched. In spite of her meticulous research for her Nanking book which was praised by numerous scholars as a historical gem, she was attacked by various right-wing extremists and even from the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. Iris was so outraged and asked "Can you imagine what would happen if a German ambassador to the U.S. made a parallel statement about a book on the Holocaust?" The Japanese political and economic power structure also almost caused "Newsweek" to back out of a contract for a serial publication of Iris' book. The passion, dedication, and vision shown in Iris' work and life inspired many people, including James Bradley, author of the best-selling books "Flags of Our Fathers" (which was also made into a movie by Clint Eastwood) and "Flyboys: A True Story of Courage." In his eulogy at Iris' funeral, Bradley directed his remarks to Iris' two-year-old son Christopher and said "For two years I had tried to find a publisher. Twenty-seven publishers had said "no." Your mother had said "Do it," and my book became a NY Times #1 best seller. This memoir also shed light on the cause of Iris' suicide. Of course, no one can say for sure what caused Iris to take her own life. After extensive investigation on the potential side effects of anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs and a detailed analysis of Iris' last few months of life, Ying-Ying thought that Iris' suicide was most likely due to the side effects of the prescribed drugs that she was taking. "The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond 'The Rape of Nanking'" is an excellent memoir from the only person who could have described Iris Chang from before and beyond "The Rape of Nanking." This book provides a valuable, deeper understanding of Iris Chang as a person, a writer, a historian, a daughter, and a mother. It sheds light on her impact on people, including strangers, besides her obvious historical impact regarding the Nanking Massacre. This memoir also describes the love story of a mother and daughter, their tribulations, triumphs, pains and sufferings. It describes lessons learned from their lives that are worthy lessons for all of us. Iris Chang should be remembered not by how she died, but how she lived.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2012

    More than a Biography

    I would suggest reading Iris Chang's book Rape of Nanking before you read this book. And read some of the memorials to Iris' passing, especially James Bradley, and the articles in the San Francisco papers published shortly after her death. You will simply not understand Iris Chang fully unless you have that background.

    If you know Iris Chang as a writer, you will find the book extremely compelling. The messages contained stay with you for a long, long time.

    This book is more than a biography. Aside from the poignant anecdotes of Iris Chang's life as a little girl, through college and onto life, and then death, there is the simple but elegantly told story of a Chinese-American mother and daughter.

    It is no surprise to me that Ying-Ying Chang, her mother, kept such meticulous records of her daughter's life. It is also no surprise that her father was as sensitive to both his wife, and his daughter's needs. Not that every Chinese family is the same, but the subliminal message is there, if you are in any way familiar with the Chinese. The book demonstrates their extreme enterprise and points out the sameness of "family" present in all families, no matter the ethnic base. In that, non-Asians might be surprised.

    Emotionally this book was a tough read and just as tough to put down.

    Olivia Cheng, who played Iris Chang in the documentary about The Rape of Nanking, wrote the lyrics to the song of that movie. Olivia suffered depression as did Iris. Olivia felt she was born to play Iris Chang. Probably so. The last words of the song are an epitaph to what Iris' mother wrote:

    Find my light. Pass it on.

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  • Posted October 11, 2011

    Love and honor females in your life.

    Call for peace. Women rarely begin violent in wars, but wars put women in hell from head and toe. In unlimited of wars, women lost lives, homes, parents, silbings, children. Do you hear of sound of women? We call for peace, love, hope here to our families. Sure, here a lot of people never forget the hell all women had from World War II in Nankin, China. Never it happen to any nations!

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