Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Wangs Vs The World by Jade Chang

Hardback:  The Wangs vs The World (2016) is a hilarious debut novel about a wealthy but fractured Chinese immigrant family that had it all, only to lose every last cent - and about the road trip they take across America that binds them back together.

Charles Wang is mad at America.  A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he has just been ruined by the financial crisis.  Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands - and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford.  Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina.

But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Outrageously funny and full of charm, The Wangs vs. the World is an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America - and how going from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings one family together in a way money never could.

About the author:  Jade Chang's debut novel, The Wangs vs. the World, was published on 4 October 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  She is a journalist who has covered arts, culture, and cities and a recipient of the Sundance Fellowship for Arts Journalism, the AIGA/Winterhouse Award for Design Criticism, and the James D Houston Memorial scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

She was recently a member of the Goodreads editorial team, where she worked on newsletters, author interviews, blog posts, infographics, and the quote of the day!

Rating:  4/5

Monday, 13 February 2017

The Apathetic Generation

Slave of Allah: Zacarias Moussaoui vs The USA by Katherine C Donahue

Paperback:  Why did Zacarias Moussaoui become a member of a terrorist group that conspired to blow up major American buildings and oppose the United States government in every possible way?  Unless we answer that question, we can't answer two more important questions:  Why is there so much alienation and discontent among young Muslim men and women living in the West?  Why do hundreds, even thousands, of people in North America and in Europe join fundamentalist Islamic groups which offer them a role in the global jihad?

In 2006, Zacarias Moussaoui became the first person to stand trial in the US for the events of 11 September 2001.  This timely book provides a close insight into the Moussaoui case from an anthropological perspective.

Katherine C Donahue was present at the trial.  Based on first-hand evidence, this book provides a unique picture of an al-Qaeda convert in the process of forming his identity just when he is calling the death sentence upon himself.

It is the story of an extra-national opposition to Western democracy, seen through the experience of a man who calls himself a 'slave of Allah'.

Slave of Allah (2007) begins with his arrest and moves to the courtroom, telling the tale of Moussaoui's struggle with his defense lawyers, and raising questions about his ability to be 'represented' - his national and personal identity.

Donahue explores his background in France as the son of Moroccan immigrants, follows him to London, Afghanistan and Malaysia as he joins the growing fraternity of an Islam without borders.  He acquires an extra-national identity in which his loyalty is no longer constituted by his national identity - but by his allegiance to fundamentalist Islam.

About the author:  Katherine C Donahue is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Plymouth State University.  Dr Katherine Donahue has done field work in France, Tanzania, New England, and Alaska.  Her work in France has focused on the political economy of Montbéliard, near Switzerland and Germany and on West African musicians in Paris.  She attended the trial in Alexandria, VA, of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen accused of conspiracy in planning the attacks of 9/11, and has published a book and several articles about that case.  She received a Whiting Foundation Fellowship to do field work in Alaska and is at work on a manuscript, co-authored with Dr. David Switzer, on photographs in PSU’s McGoldrick Collection taken in Alaska in 1886 during the revenue cutter Bear’s first Arctic patrol.  Donahue is also conducting research on the sustainability of recreational boating.  Together with Plymouth State colleagues in geography, sociology, and biology she has taken students to France, Tanzania, and the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Strange Case of Thomas Quick: The Swedish Serial Killer and The Psychoanalyst Who Created Him by Dan Josefsson

Paperback:  "...some forms of psychotherapy can create false memories."

The Strange Case of Thomas Quick (2015) is the astonishing true story of the prisoner who posed as the worst serial killer in Swedish history.

In 1991, Sture Bergwall, a petty criminal and drug addict, botched an armed robbery so badly that he was deemed to be more in need of therapy than punishment.  He was committed to Säter, Sweden's equivalent of Broadmoor, and began a course of psychotherapy and psychoactive drugs.

During the therapy, he began to recover memories so vicious and traumatic that he had repressed them:  sickening scenes of childhood abuse, incest and torture, which led to a series of brutal murders in his adult years.  He eventually confessed to raping, killing and even eating more than thirty victims.  Embracing the process of self-discovery, he took on a new name:  Thomas Quick.  He was brought to trial and convicted of eight of the murders.

Stories generated at the intersection of law and human psychology are irresistible...  But...even if one arrived at some insight into Quick's mind and his reasons for confessing, another even greater mystery would be waiting:  the mentalities of Seppo Penttinen, Christer van der Kwast, Claes Borgström, Birgitta Ståhle and Sven Åke Christianson.  How could they keep this circus up and running?  They toured crime sites while Quick was as high as a kite and slurred his words, couldn't speak straight, and yet the man was supposed to remember, in detail, what happened fifteen years ago.  If you want to talk about a psychological enigma - they're all enigmatic.  And all of them are highly educated people. - Hannes Råstam (1955-2012), Swedish journalist.

In 2008, his confessions were proved to be entirely fabricated, and every single conviction was overturned.  In this gripping book, Dan Josefsson uncovers the tangled web of deceptions and delusions that emerged within the Quick team.  He reveals how a sick prisoner and mental patient, addled with prescription drugs and desperate for validation, allowed himself to become a case study for a sect-like group of therapists who practiced the controversial method of 'recovered' memory therapy.  The group's leader, psychoanalyst Margit Norell, hoped that her vast study of Thomas Quick would make history.

The Strange Case of Thomas Quick is an important and disturbing story about how pseudoscientific therapy and the irrational belief system of a secretive group of otherwise intelligent people - the courts, the police and the psychiatric profession - caused the most spectacular miscarriage of justice in modern Swedish history.  It is a masterclass in investigative journalism by one of Sweden's foremost investigative journalists.

The Strange Case of Thomas Quick is translated from the Swedish by Anna Paterson.

About the author:  Dan Josefsson is an award-winning author, journalist and documentary-maker.  He won several awards for The Strange case of Thomas Quick, including the Swedish Society of Investigative Journalists Award, the Johan Hansson Award for Non-Fiction, and the Swedish Grand Prize for Journalism, Sweden's most prestigious award for journalists.

Dr Anna Paterson is an award-winning translator, a writer and former neuroscientist.