Reviews for Cooked Seed : A Memoir


Booklist Reviews 2013 April #2
*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." Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2013 May
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.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2013 March #1
A truly rags-to-riches story from Shanghai to Chicago. Novelist Min (Pearl of China, 2010, etc.) came through the Cultural Revolution scarred, sickened and with a resolve to survive. While her first book and memoir, Red Azalea (1994), delineated her early, fervent embrace of Mao's communism, her ordeal working in a labor camp and being "handpicked" (though there was no choice in the matter) by Madame Mao's film scouts in 1974 to represent the coarsened proletarian worker in her propaganda films, this work reveals the enormous physical and emotional toll those early struggles took on Min, propelling her to reinvent herself in America. Eventually disgraced as "a cooked seed" (no chance to sprout), Min was considered "guilty" along with her entire family; she was left with a "stained dossier" and a pervasive personal sense of humiliation and worthlessness. Thanks to tips from the actress Joan Chen, whom the author had befriended during their time at the Shanghai Film Studio, Min was able to convince the Art Institute of Chicago that she was an artist and fluent speaker of English; her "crazy determination" to get past U.S. immigration officials landed her in Chicago as a student in 1984. Min's rather dry, grim descriptions of living on visa tenterhooks for years, enduring cruel loneliness, flagrant exploitation at job after job, and appalling living situations, even involving rape, prove moving reading. Always gnawed by her duty to repay her family and send money home to give her mother the toilet of her own she never had, Min felt nonetheless tenderized by being treated as a human being in America rather than a "bug." An uplifting work of incredible grit and fortitude. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
The sequel to Min's 1994 internationally best-selling memoir Red Azalea, which detailed her experience growing up during China's Cultural Revolution continues with Min's immigration to the United States on a student visa through the Art Institute of Chicago. Without money or English language skills, her attempt at building a new life brings challenge upon challenge. She works up to five odd jobs at a time, lives in unlivable apartments, suffers rape, health problems, and the thievery of con artists. She marries a man who treats her poorly; however, she then gives birth to her daughter, Lauryann, who gives her life new meaning. The first part of this memoir chronicles Min's struggle to achieve the American dream as a Chinese immigrant in the 1980s. The second part describes Min's Chinese parenting method as it is received in the Western world, reminiscent of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Verdict After spending her formative years in a labor collective in Mao's China, Min is unable to see failure as an option for either her or her daughter. Her declarative prose slowly reveals the enduring bravery of an immigrant who refused to dwell on hardship. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 February #4

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 naivet, 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)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

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