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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.
Posted May 5, 2011
"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.
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Posted January 3, 2012
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.
Posted October 11, 2011
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.