Book reviews: non-fiction from Bob Halloran, Rosalind Powell and Marian Keyes
A white man in the Chinese mafia, the trials and tribulations of adoption, and the funny thoughts of a ‘fluffy eejit airhead’
by Bob Halloran
BenBella Books (e-book)
John Willis’ story is somehow familiar: a white boy from Boston taken in by Chinese mobsters when he is a teenager, who learns Cantonese, who embellishes himself with dragon and koi fish tattoos, and who rises up the ranks to become a “dai lo” himself, trafficking in oxycodone, despite warnings from fellow mobsters to stay away from drugs. Before he makes his millions dealing in narcotics and laundering money, he is the right-hand man of Boston’s Chinese mafia chief Bai Ming (also known as Bike Ming and Tan Ngo), for whom he starts working as a collector in the late 1980s. His ascendance, writes Bob Halloran, came from his fierce loyalty to his “brothers” in the Ping On gang. As with so many narratives about the Chinese or Japanese mafia, romanticisation seeps in and the sense that perhaps too much is made of their code of rules, which somehow is supposed to put them above common criminals. Not surprisingly, a “drop-dead gorgeous” woman is involved and Willis is with her when he is busted by the police. Halloran tells an interesting story, but readers will come away with the feeling they’ve heard it all before.
How I Met My Son
by Rosalind Powell
It’s not a given that you will feel instant love for your adopted child, nor vice versa. All Rosalind Powell felt at the initial meeting with Gabriel, the boy she and her husband would adopt, was that she was drawn to him. She explains the situation by saying they were not able really to prepare for his arrival – the way pregnant women have nine months to adjust. How I Met My Son is part memoir, part look back at how societies have treated adoption: where secrecy was once sacrosanct, now openness is apparently encouraged and children expected to be told of the circumstances of their adoption. In 100 years, the UK, she writes, has gone from an unlegislated casual system of adoption to a tightly controlled procedure aimed at putting the child’s welfare at the centre. Meaning it’s no longer about finding bouncy babies for couples wanting to be parents. Readers even lukewarm about adopting a child should read Powell’s book, which tells also about the trauma children feel when they are removed from foster parents and placed with strangers. Adoptive parents, she cautions, will have to wait for love to come.
Making It Up As I Go Along
by Marian Keyes
Whole Story Audiobooks (audiobook)
Marian Keyes is easy to like. She’s funny, girly and disarmingly self-deprecating. She also employs Hiberno-English, which is so cute you’ll want to memorise every word included in her lexicon. Turned off yet? If not, you’ll love Making It Up As I Go Along, a collection of essays read by Irish actor Aoife McMahon – many published before – on health and beauty; travel; famous people she’s met; and friends and family. Hers is the type of writing that will tickle you on a good day, although, if you tried to finish the book on a bad day you might have to control your gagging reflex. It’s just too nice – a word that appears not a few times in the articles, including “Where It All Began”, which recalls a make-up column she once wrote. Another article about cosmetics, a Bobbi Brown lunch, sees her kowtowing to writers she holds in “HUGE regard”, including India Knight, Jojo Moyes and Miranda Sawyer. At the same event she bumps into Lucy Mangan, whom she feared would dismiss her as a “fluffy eejit airhead”. If you, like Keyes, have made peace with feminism, you’re in for a few hours of fun.