A generous and heartfelt search for personal and familial identity.



A journalist pays tribute to her Iranian activist parents, who risked everything to bring down the shah of Iran.

Toloui-Semnani, a Brooklyn-based writer for VICE News Tonight, was only 3 years old in 1982 when her father, Faramarz, was taken away by Revolutionary Guards in Tehran and imprisoned. In the late 1960s, Faramarz and the author’s mother, Farahnaz, had relocated to Berkeley, California, as university students, and they were active in the leftist movements to bring down the loathed, corrupt regime of the shah. When they returned to Iran, they were swept up in the chaos of the Iranian Revolution. Spurred to write this memoir after Farahnaz’s death in 2010 and the birth of her own child, Toloui-Semnani movingly re-creates the courageous activism of her young, idealistic parents, who were immersed in increasingly violent demonstrations while they attended school and worked in Berkeley. This book, writes the author, is “not just my effort to uncover why my parents chose the paths they did; it’s also an exploration of how their choices influenced my own and of this question: How will my choices, made years ago, shape this new person about to be born? This is a memoir of my parents. It is an examination of our per­sonal and political history. But it is also my own meditation on how we continue like threads stitched across decades, connecting generations.” As part of her pilgrimage in writing the memoir, Toloui-Semnani visited significant places in her parents’ lives, combining those experiences with intricate research in archives and via interviews with surviving friends of her parents. Though occasionally moving, the final section—pages of diary entries and letters between the author and her mother over the years—is overly sentimental and drains some of the narrative energy from the text. Still, the book is both richly reflective, informative, and tender in its characterizations.

A generous and heartfelt search for personal and familial identity.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0448-0

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Little A

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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