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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 naivete, 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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* Min's first book, Red Azalea (1994), was an electrifying memoir. Six singular novels followed, including Becoming Madame Mao (2000) and Pearl of China (2010). Now Min returns to her own astonishing life story. She writes, as always, with singeing candor and devastating precision as she chronicles the severe poverty and brutality of her childhood in Shanghai, her grim years in a labor camp, and her friendship with the girl who became the actress Joan Chen and helped Min immigrate to the U.S. But Min's ordeal was far from over when she arrived in Chicago to attend art school. With no English and no money, she lived in constant fear of deportation while contending with the shock of American racism, exploitative jobs, wretched living conditions, criminal scams, crushing loneliness, illness, even rape. Her brief marriage turned into a living hell when they naively purchase a dilapidated apartment building. But Min gave birth to her daughter and started writing in English, an extraordinary and resounding creative breakthrough that finally set her free. Min's indomitable and magnificent memoir spans the full spectrum of the human experience, elucidates her noble mission as a writer, and portrays a woman of formidable strength and conviction. I was broken yet standing determinedly erect. I could be crushed, but I would not be conquered. --Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist