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Mao: the Unknown Story  by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

“Mao: the Unknown Story” by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday

Random House 2005

When I watched the second Addams Family movie, I knew there’d be a “blockbuster biography” of Mao coming soon. The key scene comes as the Addams are trying to decide what to name their baby. Rejecting other, overexposed dictators like Stalin and Hitler, they pick “Mao.”

That was it, the writing on the sten-gazeta: time for some enterprising literary entrepreneur to grind out a big fat book showing us all what a monster the Great Helmsman really was.

Even so, it’s a shock to see how mechanically Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday, have carried out their assignment — and how eagerly the reviewers have endorsed the product. Every critic from Santa Barbara to Glasgow has joined the “Down with Mao!” chant, waving this big green book in an elbow-destroying parody of the Red Guards who used to whack capitalist roaders with Mao’s little red one. (more…)

Posted: July 1st, 2005

"A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey
“A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey. Doubleday 2003, $22.95

This is the worst thing I’ve ever read.

A Million Little Pieces is the dregs of a degraded genre, the rehab memoir. Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost. It’s a fitting literary metonymy for the Bush era: the rich have decided to steal it all, even the tears of the losers. (more…)

Posted: May 29th, 2003

Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin

By Michael McFaul, Cornell University Press, 2001

This book is a four-hundred page testimonial to the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the American Russia-watching mafia. In its pages, Michael McFaul condemns himself again and again with staggering non-sequiturs, self-serving lies, crude misrepresentations of his own past and the recent history of Russia, and repeated failures to meet even the most basic standards of academic rigor.

The failures to meet academic standards are the most glaring fault of the book. What can one say of an academic work that attempts to chart Russia’s “course to democracy” without once even attempting to define its central term, “democracy”? Was this mere incompetence? God knows there is incompetence and provincial gaucherie enough in McFaul’s work, from the Preface, in which he informs us that “In 1799, France was still deep in the throws [sic] of revolutionary turmoil…,” to his Conclusion, which ends with some of the most inadvertently comic attempts at grand chiasmus since Cicero wore out his whipping-arm on his duller pupils. (more…)

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Posted: November 27th, 2002


This is an eXile classic, first published in The eXile on March 6, 2002.

I‘m a harasser. Put the cuffs on me; I harassed the working class. And it wasn’t even fun. It’s not like I groped some factory girl as she leaned over a sweaty sewing machine. That would have been a harassment worth risking. All I did was post an email reply to a “Call for Papers” on the work of “Jim Daniel, Working-Class Poet.” (more…)

Posted: March 6th, 2002

Made in Yugoslavia
By Vladimir Jokanovic

Translated by Zeljana Zovko and Cathy Porter
Picador, 2001

Ah, we’re already nostalgic for the little wars of the nineties, especially the colorful Balkan popups, with their quaint rituals and goofy flags. Remember those warm breezy days when the Balkans were popping with small-arms fire? Remember how avidly the lovable hairy villagers returned to their ancient customs, supressed by the commies? Remember those warmhearted village-to-village ambushes all day every day, except when the slivovitz hangovers made them sensitive to loud noises? It was a triumph of the human spirit, the way they nourished their village snobbery, kept it bubbling at throat-slitting temperature, through the dark years of Tito’s peace. (more…)

Posted: November 4th, 2001

The Opium Poppy

Three men convicted of producing the class B controlled drug opium were each jailed… In each man’s case Judge McDonald took two years’ jail as the starting point for sentence.

Otago Daily Times
(April 17, 2001)

It takes radio signals more than a decade to reach this offworld colony. (Something about the speed of light.) So, having lived through the eighties at Reagan’s ground zero, I get to live through them again out here. The worst of all Reagan’s horrors, the Drug War, is just hitting its stride here, even as it’s losing steam back in Vampire Central. Back there, even bloodsucking monsters like Henry Hyde are deciding they might have been a bit excessive in mandating the death penalty for anyone caught with a quarter-gram of powder. Hyde got a cameo role in Traffic and, like any red-blooded American, changed his convictions instantly in exchange for a bit part, a moment being petted poolside by a bevy of Malibu Stacies. A repellent tableau, certainly; but if that’s all it takes, why not find a bit part for every Republican drug warrior? Have Soros fund huge fake Hollywood parties for every slavering Phalangist in DC! Rent a few blondes, a cheesy Elks Hall, deck it out with limos and fake cameras! Stage an entire fake Academy Awards ceremony at which Hyde, Jesse Helms and Ashcroft are the leading contenders for Best Actor, nominated for their role in dueling anti-DEA epics! Let them make tearful acceptance speeches that go on for hours, if only they’ll stop sending harmless nerds to a lifetime as the maytag of D Block. (more…)

Posted: March 7th, 2001