The War Inside 

Iris Chang earned fame and fortune, but struggled to hide her bipolar disorder, a friend's new biography reveals.

One November night in 2004, Paula Kamen was sitting down to dinner when she got a phone call from her friend, Iris Chang. Seven years earlier, Chang's book The Rape of Nanking had been a massive best-seller, catapulting the young author to international fame as a champion for victims of wartime atrocities. The night she called Kamen, Chang was 36, living in Los Gatos with her husband and two-year-old son. She'd been researching a book about the Bataan Death March. "I just wanted to let you know," she told Kamen in a frighteningly flat voice, "that in case something should happen to me ... you've been a good friend." During that call, she spun seemingly paranoid fantasies, saying that "external forces" were out to get her, and that she'd given her son "autism with vaccines." The toddler wasn't, as far as Kamen knew, autistic. Less than a week later, Chang shot herself to death on a lonely road. Kamen's book Finding Iris Chang is a paean to a friend. It is also a work of suspense, tracing a "glorious life and mysterious death" and "the loss of an extraordinary mind." It is mainly a plea for better understanding of bipolar disorder. "While there is a stigma in every community about mental illness, by all accounts it's particularly harsh in the Asian community," Kamen remarks now. "Although Asian Americans have much higher rates of suicide than the general population, they are least likely to get treatment." She was nervous while initially researching the book, because "I had mixed feelings about exposing the mental illness that she tried so hard to cover up." Nevertheless, notes Chicago-based journalist Kamen, who will be at Cody's (1730 Fourth St., Berkeley) at 7 p.m. on November 28, "I'm grateful to to have this chance to confront and name what murdered her, bipolar disorder, which is not a moral weakness — as she saw it — but a serious disease ... that thrives in silence." CodysBooks.com

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