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'What Is Water?' offers coping mechanisms for young leaders

Kirkus Reviews
"What Is Water?" by Kayvan Kian

Kayvan Kian aims to help young leaders grapple with the uncertainties of the 21st century in "What Is Water?"

The author takes the title of his book from an essay by David Foster Wallace in which an old fish asks a young fish “How’s the water?” and the latter later wonders: “What the hell is water?” Kian intends his manual to aid young achievers and entrepreneurs not only to be more aware of their “water” (the broader contexts of their world), but also to “lift yourself out of the water and have a fresh look at where you are.” The author, a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in Amsterdam, describes the cosmos facing young leaders as characterized by VUCA: It’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. He describes the “overwhelming sense of a lack of control” that’s created in those who face a VUCA universe. The coping framework he outlines draws heavily on the ancient philosophy of stoicism and seeks to help readers appraise the many upsets an uncertain world will inevitably supply. Without such analysis, Kian writes, “it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of exposure to negativity that you might have through work, social media, email, news, and voice and text messages.” Employing graphs and providing extensive open space for the audience to work out answers, the author lays out clear strategies for readers to capitalize on their strengths, clearly evaluate their weaknesses and always remember the importance of community. “Especially in a VUCA world,” he writes, “the sense of not being alone serves as a buffer for many challenges.” The book’s advice on matters of communication (the widespread stress factor of the 21st century) is its clearest and most useful, but the whole manual is energetically and invitingly written. Kian’s experience as a consultant is most evident in the many ways he’s devised to assist his readers to become involved in creating their own plans for improvement.

A forceful, engaging program for taking a clear, calming look at an increasingly alarming world.

A twisty ride to the bottom

In Andrea Dunlop's "We Came Here to Forget," to escape a highly publicized family crisis, a champion skier travels to Argentina, where she joins a community of expats who, like her, are hiding dark secrets.

Katie Cleary hops a plane to Buenos Aires on a whim and reinvents herself as Liz Sullivan, a tour guide with a broken heart. In reality, her past is much more sinister. In alternating chapters, she recounts the events that led her to abandon her Olympic dream, leave her family behind, and break up with her boyfriend, Luke Duncan, who is a fellow skier and a longtime family friend. Glimpses of Katie’s childhood with her beloved sister, Penny, offer tantalizing clues as to what went wrong and why they’re now estranged. As Katie’s life falls apart, Luke’s brother, Blair, emerges as the supportive friend — and maybe more — that she couldn’t find in Luke. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, Liz meets Edward and Gemma, a pair of wealthy expats who welcome her into their “Buenos Aires Lonely Hearts Society.” Through them, she meets the mysterious and brooding Gianluca, who teaches her to tango. Cutting in on a love triangle with the two brothers, Gianluca’s dance lessons somehow have less fire than Liz’s memories of home even though they lead to a truly steamy fling. But when the past finally catches up with her and her group, Katie learns more about Gianluca, his friends, and his country than meets the eye, putting all their sordid stories into new perspective and clearing the way for healing, forgiveness, and a return trip home.

The twisty ride to the bottom is heartbreaking and compulsively readable.

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