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The story of a murderer

China’s giant babies

Why this book is making readers in Beijing throw their toys out of the pram. Plus other bestsellers from around the globe

Why this book is making readers in Beijing throw their toys out of the pram. Plus other bestsellers from around the globe

April/May 2017

Time to grow up?
Most people in China have the emotional maturity of a six-month-old, the Chinese psychologist Wu Zhihong argues in his latest book, “Ju Ying Guo” (Giant Baby Nation). He blames blind filial piety and collectivism for a narcissistic generation of adults unable to make their own decisions, apply critical judgment or take responsibility. These “giant babies” are suffering from a host of psychological ills – depression, anxiety, persecution mania, paranoia, helplessness and control freakery. A suspicion that Wu’s extreme brand of Freudian psychoanalysis is designed to sell books has some readers throwing their toys out of the pram, but the fact that the term “giant baby” is trending on Chinese social media suggests his diagnosis has struck a chord. 

Straight out of Soweto
Comedian Trevor Noah has made it big in America with his outsider’s take on American culture. But his stories about growing up in South Africa have more to say to readers back home. “Born a Crime” tells of an unusual boyhood in the dying days of apartheid, negotiating the thorny terrain of race and language as the illegal child of a white man and a black woman. From attending three churches in a day with his devout mother, to hustling pirated CDs on street corners, to the terrifying violence of his stepfather, Noah’s experiences explain the chameleon identity that has helped him become a perceptive observer (and wicked mimic) as host of the satirical “Daily Show”. To South Africans, though, Noah reveals raw truths about the absurdities of apartheid in stories that are funny, painful and cathartic. 

The unkindest cut 
Astrid Holleeder’s “Judas” ends on a chilling note: “That Sonja, Sandra and I must pay for our testimony against you with death, you know and we know.” Readers in the Netherlands have been devouring biographies lately, but none has been more widely read, or more discussed, than this book by the sister of Dutch criminal cult-figure Willem Holleeder (main image), who is currently on trial for multiple murders. Part biography, part family chronicle, part deposition, “Judas” describes how a family is ripped apart by a tyrannical son who spares nobody from his violence and extortion. It is written with the urgency of someone who fears for their life and yet remains torn between hate and love for a sibling. The book was prepared in secret, printed abroad and booksellers had to order it sight unseen. The first edition sold out in a day.

Trouble in paradise
The white sands of the Dominican Republic are awash with corruption. Richard Martinez, a former government official, delights in plumbing the depths of political double-dealing. His new book, “La Negociación” (The Negotiation), is a fictionalised account of the arrest of Jose Figueroa-Agosto, the most infamous drug lord in the country’s recent history. The book has become a must-read, having coincided handily with the country’s largest ever anti-corruption marches – and seems to be spurring the protest sentiment still further. As Martinez himself says of his novel, “the reality is much worse.”

The best medicine
140,000 Facebook “likes” may seem an average achievement to some, yet in Lithuania, a country of barely 3m people, it is a sensation. Behind the Facebook profile, Gelezine Lape (the Iron Fox) is, unexpectedly, a middle-aged banker, until recently anonymous, with a mission to get Lithuanians to lighten up. The Fox’s gentle mockery of everyday situations, now collected in an illustrated book of “advice”, ribs people who, for example, hoard the free pencils from IKEA or never reply to texts and then complain of being ignored. Having emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, Lithuanians say they are still unable to turn self-pity into self-deprecation, so they‘re letting the Iron Fox teach them to see the funny side.

Identity crisis
Until recently people in Canada hid any aboriginal ancestry out of fear of discrimination. Joseph Boyden chose to highlight his and became a prominent aboriginal spokesman after writing novels that chronicle Canada’s harsh treatment of its indigenous peoples. But aboriginal journalists have been questioning his ancestry, sparking a divisive debate. His more vehement critics compare him to Grey Owl, a famous fraud from the 1930s. Boyden stands by his claim and his latest novel, “Wenjack”, the story of a 12-year-old Ojibwe boy who froze to death after running away from a residential school, has been riding high despite the criticism.

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