In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution. "Red Azalea" became an international bestseller and propelled her career as a successful, critically acclaimed author.Read more...
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In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution. "Red Azalea" became an international bestseller and propelled her career as a successful, critically acclaimed author. Twenty years later, Min returns to the story of her own life to give us the next chapter, an immigrant story that takes her from the shocking deprivations of her homeland to the sudden bounty of the promised land of America, without language, money, or a clear path.
It is a hard and lonely road. She teaches herself English by watching Sesame Street, keeps herself afloat working five jobs at once, lives in unheated rooms, suffers rape, collapses from exhaustion, marries poorly and divorces.But she also gives birth to her daughter, Lauryann, who will inspire her and finally root her in her new country. Min's eventual successes-her writing career, a daughter at Stanford, a second husband she loves-are remarkable, but it is her struggle throughout toward genuine selfhood that elevates this dramatic, classic immigrant story to something powerfully universal.
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The perils of a promised land
On August 31, 1984, Anchee Min hurtled through the night into the unknown, flying alone away from the familiarity of family and home into an uncharted territory full of adventures and challenges. “Sitting in the airplane crossing the Pacific Ocean, I felt like I was dreaming with my eyes wide open. I tried to imagine the life ahead of me, but my mind went the other way.”
In her powerful and compulsively readable new memoir, The Cooked Seed, Min pulls back the curtains on her most intimate fears and hopes, inviting us to join her as she travels from her life in China, by turns wretched and loving, to her life in America, often miserable yet ultimately triumphant. Desperate to escape the privations of life in Communist China, where she toils in a labor camp as a young girl and is shipped off like a package to work on propaganda films in Madame Mao’s Shanghai Film Studio, Min tirelessly and haltingly learns English in order to seek a new life in America. Despite her lack of a secure grasp of the language, she applies for a visa, fearful of being turned away and surprised (yet secretly excited) when her application is approved.
Woefully underprepared for coming to America—she is not fluent in English, and she has no friends or family in this new place—Min faces one challenge after another when her plane lands in Chicago. She is almost turned away at customs, but a kindly translator recognizes Min’s talent and potential and allows her through; her first roommate, Takisha, teaches her lessons about the racism and poverty that exist even in the midst of wealth and plenty in American society. She struggles constantly with her inability to understand English, her lack of money—she works five jobs—and her dream of discovering her true identity and embracing it. About a photo taken during her first months in Chicago, she writes, “I looked confident and attractive. . . . The real me was depressed, lonely, and homesick. I craved affection, and I dreamed of love.”
Looking for love and acceptance amongst the harsh realities of her new home, Min falls into an unhappy marriage, becomes pregnant, almost dies giving birth and gets divorced. “I was broken yet standing determinedly erect. I could be crushed, but I would not be conquered.” In the midst of all this, she discovers her talent for telling stories and blossoms as a writer, going on to write six novels in English as well as a previous memoir about her life in China (Red Azalea).
Min’s soulful tale of despair and hope stirs our hearts and souls with its moving, harrowing and often heartrending stories of one young girl’s coming of age in a land of threat and promise.