“In the summer of 2004, I received an email from my father with the subject line ‘Changes,’” she began, her soft voice occasionally drowned out by cars racing up the canyon. “My father lived in Hungary, and it was the first communication I’d received from him in many years. He said he had some interesting news for me. He had decided, at the age of 76, that he’d had enough of, quote, impersonating a macho, aggressive man. There was a series of snapshots attached to the message. The first one showed my father standing in a hospital lobby in a sleeveless blouse and red skirt. Beside him were, as he wrote in the note, ‘the other post-op girls’ — two patients who were also making ‘the change.’”
“In the Darkroom” is a departure for Ms. Faludi. While previous works like “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women” and “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man” were essentially polemics, her memoir is deeply personal. It is also a project as high concept as a sitcom pitch: What if a famous feminist author — whose activism was spurred by her father’s bullying machismo — discovered that said phallocrat had become a woman? Complications ensue. But Ms. Faludi mines her material less for easy ironies than for insights into the very meaning of identity.
The underlying thesis of Pomfret’s account is quite simple: that the United States and China are locked “in an entangling embrace that neither can quit” and that this mutual dependence is “vital to the fate of the world.” The embrace’s entanglement is demonstrated by way of all too many examples — from the mid-19th-century American envoy Anson Burlingame to World War II’s Gen. Joseph Stilwell, from Pearl Buck to Henry Luce, Henry Kissinger to the American table tennis team, Richard Nixon to the accused spy Wen Ho Lee. It is shown to be an acquaintanceship of bewildering complexity and capriciousness, with periods of adoration interrupted by decades of suspicion, loathing and fear.
‘Light as a feather, free as a bird.’ Günter Grass starts this final volume of short prose, poetry and sketches with a late and unexpected reawakening of his creative urge. After peevish old age had brought on such despondency that ‘neither lines of ink nor strings of words flowed from his hand’, he was gripped — out of the blue, and to his evident relish — by the impulse to ‘unleash the dog with no sense of shame. Become this or that. Lose my way on a single-minded quest.’