I am fascinated with writers who write about other writers. I loved Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face and was stunned at her tragic death. What was more fascinating was the look inside her life by best friend and fellow writer Ann Patchett in the memoir Truth and Beauty.
I have just finished reading Finding Iris Chang by Paula Kamen. Ms Kamen tells the story of Iris Chang the writer of the famous and internationally best selling historical work called The Rape of Nanking. Iris Chang tragically took her own life in 2004. This beautiful tribute to Iris and her work explains what she stood for and what demons may have possessed her at the end when she shot herself.
I loved Iris. I hardly knew her yet I loved the person she was. I loved how she sought out documents at archives and interviewed people so she could tell their story. I loved that she could not shut herself off from the horror and tragedy and that she let it take hold of her and shape her life and her work. Of course, I do not like where it led her in the end, but her story in all its sadness is a tale worth telling.
I suppose the allure of these memoirs by friends of writers gives us a glimmer of the truth behind the star. The other allure is the discussion of female friendship at its most complex and endearing. What woman among us does not have a best friend we could write a novel about? If we did, what would we say? What documents could we produce that would tell the world her story? What letters are hidden in our attic? What friends would we interview? What memories could we pull up from our crazy life together?
Finding Iris Chang is a story of a great woman who died too soon. It is all the more enjoyable told from an insider’s perspective.