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Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind Hardcover – October 23, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


American Author’s Association website
“A brilliant effort and one that grabs the reader's heart and mind…Intimate and reflective…A page turner…Holds you emotionally hostage long after you stop reading it…A powerful and serious book.”


Entertainment Weekly, 12/19/08
"[A] moving bio.”

Curve, August 2009
“Throughout, Kamen is a brazenly subjective narrator. As kind as she is exacting, she speaks to all sides of a woman whose name came to signify activist journalism.”


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1St Edition edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306814668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306814662
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
***First of all, please note that I strongly disagree with the Publishers Weekly review posted above. I think it's simply wrong.***

Iris Chang (1968-2004) is somewhat forgotten now, and that's a shame. A journalist, she wrote an international bestseller back in 1997 called "The Rape of Nanking," a historical study that became not only a must-read among intellectuals and armchair historians, but also among college students, their professors, and hundreds of thousands of people of Chinese or Japanese descent.

Although born in the 1960's, Iris Chang became a sort of international ambassador/interpreter of the war crimes committed in Nanking, China, just before World War II, whose magnitude depends one whom you choose to believe. That she was a physically beautiful, mentally brilliant, hard-charging 20-something wunderkind is--from a historical point of view--totally irrelevant to her subject matter. On the other hand, it made her a meteor-like instant celebrity around the globe, sort of like Woodward and Berstein shortly after their Watergate reporting.

Tragically, Chang's unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true story was, ultimately, too good to be true. At the age of 36, she took her own life.

Now, author Paula Kamen has written a book that tells the story of Chang's life. What puts a fascinating twist on this biography is that Kamen and Chang were very good friends going back almost 20 years, and Kamen herself is a successful non-fiction author.

Kamen looks at Chang through two strikingly different lenses: one, from an objective, strictly professional/journalistic point of view, and two, from the point of view of a caring, long-term, mourning friend.
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Format: Hardcover
Somewhere in the Sherlock Holmes stories there is an episode where Holmes slyly sets a little test for Watson. Holmes has already checked out the mystery du jour but, without letting on, deputes Watson to take a second look. Watson reports back in plodding and largely irrelevant detail, as Holmes impassively listens. Finally Holmes thunders: "Watson, you have noted everything but what is significantc.You see but do not observe."

Anyone familiar with the geopolitical ground covered in this book can be forgiven a similar harrumph. While Kamen's account consistently holds the reader's interest, she comes up short on many of the crucial questions that knowledgeable readers want answered.

One of the most obvious questions is how someone as young as Iris Chang could have soared so seemingly effortlessly to fame. True, Chang's defining book The Rape of Nanking was not only well written but Chang had added considerably to what was already known from the 1930s. But, in an era in which hype alone can catapult sheer balderdash to the top of the best seller list, good writing is hardly a sufficient condition for publishing success. What propelled the Nanking book was its unique shock value in breaking a half-century-old omerta in the Japan studies field. Quite simply in pre-Chang days, Nanking was virtually never mentioned by American Japan watchers.

This self-censorship was all such a sharp contrast with the dedication with which American scholars had pored over the horrors of Auschwitz and Treblinka (and indeed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Why had Nanking been forgotten? The answer -- one whose significance has evidently been lost on Kamen -- is that the highest government officials in Tokyo wanted it forgotten.
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6 Comments 55 of 65 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Kamen takes on a delicate, intriguing, painful topic--the (self) destruction of a young, brilliant, dedicated writer--with the same admixture of gentle humor, wide scholarly research, sympathy, earnest and sometimes self-deprecating personal narrative, and more research that she brought, in her previous book, ALL IN MY HEAD, to the topic of devastating chronic pain--her own and that of millions of Americans and other around the world.

She takes the reader on the path she followed in investigating a question and a mystery that touched her deeply because of her complicated, long-standing personal relationship with Iris Chang, the brilliant, internationally successful writer who took her own life at age 35. (Please don't let the Publisher's Weekly review keep you from taking a look at this book yourself--they seem to have expected a conspiracy-theoried murder mystery and been disappointed when a skim through the pages for the "juicy" parts revealed a more human story, sad, funny and still perplexing.)

I am harping on this a bit because they have a monopoly as the top-listed editorial review on all Amazon listings and therefore have an ethical obligation, in my opinion, to be thorough in reading the works they review). Instead, I believe this reviewer never actually bothered to read (versus skim quickly) the book, or else is somehow very confused as to what Kamen is both attempting and accomplishing via her (deliberate) interweaving of genres to tackle non-fiction subjects from a scholarly, and yet very human and humor-infused (as appropriate) perspective.

Thus, I would like to offer the following to the Publisher's Weekly reviewer (courtesy of Willa Cather, from THE PROFESSOR'S HOUSE):

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