- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Pegasus Books (May 15, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1605981729
- ISBN-13: 978-1605981727
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 67 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,287,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking- A Memoir Hardcover – May 15, 2011
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“…Ying-Ying Chang has created a moving and beautiful tribute to her daughter.” —Booklist
“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…She gives some credence to a possible conspiracy…” —Publisher Weekly
“A caring and graceful memoir that deserves wide attention. Moving and superb.” —Jim Lehrer, Host of PBS Newshour
“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.” —Richard Rhodes, from the Introduction
“This is a brave and serious book, a worthy memorial to a brave and serious daughter.” —Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
“Read this book and you will know Iris Chang as the courageous woman she was.” —James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Father; Flyboys; The Imperial Cruise
“Hard work, true grit: ‘The Woman Who Could Not Forget’ ultimately isn't a sad story, but rather a celebration of Iris's remarkable life.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Ying-Ying had accomplished what she set out to do. Iris Chang will not be forgotten.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“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.” —San Jose Mercury News
“Ying-Ying Chang provides new insights into the pressures that the world put on Iris, who…came not only to fear for her own safety but for that of her loved ones.” —The Atlantic
“…this book is a powerfully written page-turner that will touch the heart of every reader.” —Eamonn Fingleton, Tokyo-based author of Unsustainable: How Economic Dogma Is Destroying American Prosperity
“Iris Chang's courage, her tenacity and conviction reverberate through this excellent biography.” —Mo Hayder, author of Birdman; The Devil of Nanking.
“…intimate portrait of a brilliant historian and a beloved daughter.” —Ted Leonsis, producer of the film Nanking and author of The Business of Happiness
“…a riveting portrayal of a celebrated writer, and a compassionate and remarkable woman." —Bill Guttentag, director of the film Nanking and author of Boulevard
“In these heartfelt pages, Prof. Chang's own memories advance the cause of justice to which Iris devoted her life.” —David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly; FOB
“This beautiful and courageous memoir is the gift of a mother’s love and has a storyteller’s fine detail...” —Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People
"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." —Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
About 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 Chang Memorial Fund.
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The first chapter relates the almost unimaginable day that Iris Chang, young and beautiful author and speaker, committed suicide in November of 2004. This is her mother’s memoir of Iris’s life, published seven years later.
This suicide lingers in a reader’s mind although the next eight chapters are a family album-type reminiscence that, while not being maudlin, would be pedestrian. Iris grew up with an intense intellectualism, starting from Iris’s birth (Chapter 2) through her childhood into high school and college. Even though she is an American born Chinese, and her parents do not impose the expectations on her that occur in Asia, her drive reflects both cultures and adds an intensity not found in most youngsters. With Chapter 9, Iris begins her early writing career although this skill had been a passion from her earliest schooling. “The “Thread of the Silkworm” became her first book.
This memoir moves from letters to e-mails as the means of record keeping. It is Chapter 10 that puts Iris on track with an ambition, indeed an obsession, to chronicle the events of the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in 1937.
Iris wrote: “In a single blinding moment, I recognized the fragility of not just life, but the human experience itself....” When she saw an exhibit of pictures from the Nanjing massacre, she states “The horror of those photographs inspired me to write the book.”
Unfortunately, there are those who deride Iris’s work as nothing more than hate-mongering and the repetition and distortion of common records. Her mother’s book opens up the extensive research Iris did, including the first examination of archival letters and the use of FOI requests to secure government documents that had been sealed for half a century. Iris was bi-lingual and traveled to China to interview survivors. Once the book is published and becomes a best-seller, Iris is already speaking coast-to-coast both in book tours and on behalf of the various Chinese American organizations.
Photos in the center of the book provide a panorama of Iris’s life, from baby pics to family vacations to the photos that propelled Iris to write the Rape of Nanking.
Here is also the behind-the-scenes perspective on the discovery of John Rabe’s diary, discussed heavily in the Rape of Nanking book.
Iris’s growth as a writer came from her profuse reading. Her growth as a speaker also came from her extensive reading of great speeches from Clarence Darrow to Winston Churchill. “I feel engaged in actual conversation with them. Word s are the only way to preserve the essence of the soul.”
By Chapter 14, Iris is a celebrity which leads to a ‘roller coaster” life in Chapter 15. When her father, a famous physicist in his own right, visits the head of Taiwan’s National Science Council, “...he jokingly said “I’d prefer to see your daughter rather than you!”
Iris’ third (and last) book was on the Chinese in America. Again the reader can understand the tremendous work that goes into the research behind writing an authoritative book. I have fully understood the American stupidity and outright racism behind the Wen-ho Lee episode, but her angry pointing out of the absolute racial profiling in the government’s Cox report added substance. “Their story reminds me of the kind of irresponsible journalism that marred the Tsien case during the McCarthy era.”
Iris felt history deeply: “People die twice—once as mortals, and once in memory. I weep when stories are lost.” and “The spoken word vanished with the wind. Likewise the unrecorded life disappears as if it never existed.”
Nor could she tolerate the weakness of human society: “People tend to move, subconsciously, in the direction of other people’s expectations.”
Because Iris and her husband were immunologically incompatible, it made pregnancy impossible Several chapters describe IVF and the surrogacy of their baby. Iris contemplated a book on how reproduction techniques could eventually give women an equal footing with men.
Iris also aided in politics in getting the full disclosure act passed that allowed the declassification of military records over Japanese wartime atrocities. Iris went on the reveal how the US had not only ignored Article 26 on Japanese reparations to victims, but assisted Japan in waiving US veterans’ claims to reparations.
Finally, at Chapter 19, the clouds roll in and the “high” ends as various events eventually lead to depression. Much attention in Chapter 20 is focused on treatments for depression and the possibility that side effects of these psychotic drugs were the cause of Iris’ suicide. While outside observers, learning of Iris’s death by gunshot, suspected the involvement of Japan revisionists and Yakuza, this family perspective of the nervous breakdown and eventual suicide lays that theory to rest.
As a biology teacher who is constantly fighting the anti-vaccinators, it is sad to see that Iris’ concern that her boy had autism as a result of her having ordered too many vaccinations attests to the damage that such anti-science nonsense can cause. But it added to Iris’s feelings of guilt.
Ying-Ying states in her epilogue that “Writing this memoir has helped me sort out many things.” But it does contribute to more than just family healing. She comes to the conclusion that Iris’s suicide was caused by her medications.
Iris’s mother provides a last sentence that is most fitting: “There are some that live their lives for others.”
I must salute Mrs Chang for her courage and dedication in writing this memoir of her daughter. For a reader interested in the subject, it provides a detailed account of first-hand observations of Iris's upbringing, struggles, success and eventual tragic exit. The book is difficult to read though. The subject matter is extremely difficult. Mrs Chang has a bland writing style that I do not find too appealing. The book reads like a diary/journal/log of her interactions with her daughter all through the latter's life. Descriptions in the book tend to be petty in places. From a mother's perspective, much is said about Iris's intelligence, sensitivity, hard work and determination. What I would like to see more is a perspective that shows the anguish Iris experienced as a mature adult. The memoir only provides very brief glimpses of such.