The Cooked Seed: A Memoir

Anchee Min, Author
Anchee Min. Bloomsbury, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59691-698-2
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
Release date: 05/07/2013
Paperback - 366 pages - 978-1-60819-423-0
Open Ebook - 978-1-60819-424-7
Hardcover - 361 pages - 978-1-4088-3820-4
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-1-4088-3817-4
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-1-4088-3818-1
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In her excoriating examination of the legacy of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, novelist Min (Pearl of China, etc.) offers a sharp, moving contrast between American and Chinese attitudes about human worth and dignity. Raised in Shanghai in a hardscrabble family of four children and educated parents who were denounced as “bourgeois,” Min was plucked as a teenager from a labor camp in 1974 by Madame Mao’s henchmen to appear in propaganda films. Min was thought to have “proletarian looks” (weather-beaten face, muscular body). However, with the swift change in the political wind, Min and her family were publicly shamed and thrown into years of poverty and ill health, sharing one room and a bathroom with 20 neighbors. Min, a hard worker, natural caretaker, and loyal to friends, managed to convince the Art Institute of Chicago that she was an artist and spoke English, though she nearly got deported once she arrived in Chicago at age 27 in 1984 because she spoke no English at all. Her memoir methodically reconstructs those painstaking first years in Chicago, living on a pittance, scrounging for work, amazed at what she considered luxurious dorm living, and guilt-ridden at her inability to rescue her family back home. Along the way, she offers candid observations on American naiveté, casual waste, and lack of Chinese stick-to-itness, yet writes poignantly of being treated with decency and warmth, inspiring her to work harder. Watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and reading Jane Eyre helped pave her yellow brick road to literary success, as she delineates captivatingly in this work. (May)
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