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Red Azalea

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,468 Ratings  ·  476 Reviews
Hailed by People Magazine as "achingly beautiful", this New York Times Notable Book tells the extraordinary story of China under Mao, revealing both the brutality of oppression and the resilience of the human heart.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 1st 1999 by Berkley Trade (first published 1993)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I can recommend three excellent books on the late 20th-century Chinese experience. The first is Nien Cheng's Life and Death in Shanghai. This memoir begins with Cheng’s victimization by the state at the onset of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" in 1966. Harry Wu's Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China's Gulag starts earlier, just after the Communist victory and takeover of 1949. Wu’s book is very good, but it does not rise to the literary level of Cheng’s. Wu’s mission was to ex ...more

There are books that make me especially grateful that I don't write reviews for anyone but myself, in that I am perfectly free to write what I want, how I want, with more attention paid to what I thought and the terms of civil discourse than the 'proper' way of reviewing. This is one of them.

What we have here is a memoir written by a woman who grew to adulthood on the tail end of Mao's reign, the book itself ending a few pages after the death of the Chairman who spearheaded the Cultural Rev

This is the memoir of a young girl facing the Cultural Revolution in China. She experiences first the hope and jubilation, then the disillusionment and sorrow if its ultimate impact.

Anchee (Jade of Peace) is raised on the teachings of Mao, becomes a leader of the Little Red Guards in elementary school, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.

As a bright young woman, a child of two educated parents, and oldest of four children, she is sent off to work as a laborer on a farm, c
May 15, 2013 Chrissie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio, china, sample-ok, alt, lgtb
Sure, this book is about the Cultural Revolution, but it is even more about both lesbian and heterosexual love relationships. If a book about two women’s love for each other will bother you, then I will advise you to look elsewhere. Furthermore, it is a disturbing book, in that if focuses on relationships where people use others for their own gain. This is an autobiography, and this book does relate what happened to the author during the Cultural Revolution. I do admire the author for so honestl ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Yvette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I first started to read it, I found that I had to put it down several times within the first couple chapters, because the voice and imagery in the story resonated so clearly to me - it was so heartbreaking, violent, confusing and upsetting (despite my not being raised in China nor during the Cultural Revolution.) I think it resembled a similar cultural divide that I had experienced as a 1st Generation Chinese American, growing up in New York and being raised by my grandparents. Often, what ...more
Michael Arden
Sep 05, 2011 Michael Arden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Irony builds upon irony in this autobiography of the best-selling Chinese historical novelist, Anchee Min. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a time which Chairman Mao coined as “permanent revolution,” the Chinese people are totally oppressed and required to conform in a way crippling to the human spirit. Young Ms. Min is a naïve middle school student living with her family in a cramped apartment in Shanghai when she is recruited to become a Red Guard. First she is required to den ...more
May 29, 2011 Vasha7 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At one point in this memoir, Anchee Min quotes the proverb "Poverty gives birth to evil personalities". This book shows that happening, but it is not just material poverty -- the women who have so little power battle each other like a pack of starving dogs fighting over a very small crust. Min's main theme, too, is the drought of desire in a sexually and emotionally repressive culture. Friendship is subversive and cannot survive, sex is subversive. Min weaves together her themes in a subtle and ...more
This year I’ve been doing a reading project of only authors of colour, pretty much all LGBTQ. I’ve read a ton of great stuff, and one of the best things this challenge has made me do is discover some authors that I never would have encountered otherwise. One such writer is Anchee Min, whose memoir Red Azalea I read a few weeks ago. I was totally and utterly blown-away by the gorgeous, unique writing and the page-turning, I-can’t-believe-this-is-true plot. I can’t believe I might not have found t ...more
Feb 09, 2012 Karo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, china
Red Azalea is not difficult to read -- it is a book easily consumed in one or two sittings. However, when it comes to the digestion of what's been read, that's a different story altogether. Red Azalea is the story of the author's childhood under China's Cultural Revolution, but tackled with seemingly simple language that manages to impart complicated undercurrents of meaning to the reader. Anchee Min has stated in interviews that she admires the painting style of Henri Matisse, and that her writ ...more
Carol Douglas
Mar 08, 2016 Carol Douglas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one woman's story of what it was like to be a girl sent to the countryside in China's Cultural Revolution. Anchee Min shows how hard it is to pick cotton all day, which of course reminded me of slavery in the United States. She also demonstrates how all-pervasive ideology was: Even endearments between sweethearts may be phrased in political slogans.
The most unusual aspect of the book is the moving love relationship between two girls working in the same production team. Of course such
This is an honest & frightening memoir of growing up in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s & 1970s. Min describes a systematically deprived Shanghai childhood (the family was forced into successively meaner quarters); school days spent as a member of the Red Guard, spouting the words of Chairman Mao & being forced to publicly betray her favorite teacher; & later teen years on a work farm in order to become a peasant because peasants were the only true van ...more
Dec 21, 2012 Gianna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian, non-fiction
I din't want to rate the book. How does one rate someone's life story anyway? The memories or events one selects as meaningful? Anchee Min is a natural story teller, and her memoir reads more like a novel. I marveled at the numerous details, the carefully captured descriptions of one's movements, the precision of reported speech, and wondered how accurate all of these details actually are.

The emotions are raw. If it is difficult to read at times, it is not because of the writing in any way, but
Bryn Greenwood
Jan 29, 2016 Bryn Greenwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I hardly know what to say about, as evidenced by the fact that it took me six months to finish it.

The thing that kept coming to mind as I worked my way through what is essentially a tale of fear, isolation, deprivation, and heartbreak, was ... HOLY SHIT, THE WHOLE COUNTRY OF CHINA GOT TAKEN IN BY A CULT! That level of mindboggled shock and horror.

I learned all these basic facts about Chinese history in school. Cultural Revolution, communism, yeah yeah yeah. What
Akemi G
Aug 30, 2015 Akemi G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives us the internal view of Mao China, its Cultural Revolution, the life in a society most Americans are unfamiliar with. That's certainly interesting. For me, however, this book is about being human. The government suppresses people's natural feelings, over and over, with overwhelming authoritative power, and yet, they cannot help being human. People still fall in love. They seek out beauty. They find joy in seemingly little things.

The author intentionally leaves much unsaid. For i
Apr 14, 2016 Josiphine marked it as will-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-reading
I might have finished this except that Min doesn't use any quotation marks. At all. And she doesn't start a new paragraph with a new speaker either. Isn't that strange? you ask. Yes, I reply. It's very strange. It makes for very difficult reading. Yes, I can see that, you say. I say, Exactly. That's why I'm giving up.
Jun 03, 2011 Melki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
The one lesson I took away from this book is that when my gut tells me to stop reading, I should listen to it. Only about 30 pages in, I wanted to walk away and I truly wish I had. Min has a fairly emotionless style, and I could not feel for her. I was much more intersted in the supporting "characters" all of whom seemed to be leading more fascinating lives than the author. She endures some hardships, but it turns out her biggest crisis is when she is cheated out of the starring role in a Commun ...more
Oct 16, 2015 Kavita rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Red Azalea is supposed to be Anchee Min's memoir of her life in China. The name is taken from a propaganda opera in which Min acted. The book is divided into three sections, which deals with different phases in the author's life.

The writing is stilted. Reading short sentences for 300 pages was a chore. The author also does not use quotations, so the book is really hard to read. There are hundreds of "she said" and "I said" scattered over every page and separated only by commas, and sometimes no
Regina Lindsey
Anchee Min, best known for her historical fiction work set in China grew up during the Cultural Revolution under Mao. Early on she showed great promise as a daughter of the Revolution even considering, at one time, turning her parents for counter-revolutionary thoughts and actions. However, when she was forced to lead a public denouncement of her teacher Min began to awaken to the reality of China and Communism.
In many ways this book was incredibly disappointing. While I admit I've never read Mi
Stasa Fritz
This is part of my MFA reading responses. I really was a bit underwhelmed by this book.

Response to Red Azalea, by Anchee Min.
There are two aspects I would note in the way Min writes. The first, the simplistic—on the surface—language and sentences. The sentences are extremely short, almost staccato. This is especially true in the beginning, which mirrors the early age of the narrator at that time, but I believe it is not due to this, but rather that English is not Min’s first language. Nonetheles
Diane Yannick
This is one of the most tedious books that I ever finished. It takes place in China during the Cultural Revolution. Achee Min left her home in a Shanghai tenement to join a labor collective where she lived by the rules of Mao's little red book.

Her oppressive life was described in excruciating detail. I sympathized with the methodical, authoritarian destruction of her spirit. However, I could not see the beauty of the storytelling which many have described as poetic. I did not gain many insights
My Review: Books are in my blood, it’s no secret. I am shamelessly in awe of literature. Such enormous life concepts- passion, culture, love, war; even existence itself- become contained within a few magical pages. On a dusty shelf in the corner of a rare bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah sits Communist China, in all its colossal glory, simply waiting to be discovered by an unsuspecting, shelf-perusing reader.

Red Azalea is the story of a girl trying to grow up in the shadow of Mao- “I was an ad
Aug 20, 2010 Agatha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir. By the same author as PEARL IN CHINA. This author, born in 1957, grew up in China during Mao's Cultural Revolution. She was the oldest of 4 children and, upon graduating from "high school" at age 17, had to go work as a peasant on what was basically a commune, b/c at least one child from every family had to give a child to work for the country as a peasant. [Her work and time there reminded me a bit of that adolescent book, The Endless Steppe (about a girl growing up in Siberia), if anyo ...more
Min writes an honest memoir of coming-of-age through Mao's cultural revolution. I was going to write bluntly honest, but decided that blunt described the memoir itself. Her sentence structure is short and punchy. She tells it as it was. She bares her emotions, rubbed raw by injustice and oppression. Nearly everyone is broken by Mao's machine.

I found her stories of farm labor interesting. Her relationship with Yan surprised me - in its innocence and path. Found it hard to believe that they could
Aug 27, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading "Becoming Madame Mao," a fictionalized biography of Madame Mao by Anchee Min, it was interesting to read her memoir about her years first at a collective farm during the Mao years and then in the Chinese movie industry. Now it's understandable how she had so much insight into Madame Mao. Living here in the United States, it's hard to imagine life in a country that sounds so much like "1984" realized. Reading a personal account of someone's life during this period helped to bring un ...more
May 21, 2009 Nancy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Anchee Min grew up during China's Cultural Revolution, and she has an interesting story to tell about growing up as an excellent student, being sent to the country to work as a communal farm laborer to fill her family's peasant quota, and then being selected to receive acting lessons. I have two main gripes about the book: her prose is extremely choppy, which was very distracting to me, and she dwelt at length on some parts of her story while barely talking about others. I'm surprised I finished ...more
May 05, 2014 Gabriela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, china, non-fiction
An amazing book, about the struggle of women, ideology and manipulation of the masses, during the Cultural Revolution in China. The style of the book is direct, yet filled with metaphors unusual for an European mind. The sexuality in the book is a call for hope, for love, for a better chance to individuality, for a struggle to keep the self while the Party's aim is to control all selves. I will definitely read Becoming Madame Mao next.
I read Red Azalea years ago and only remembered it because of Anchee Min's newly released second memoir The Cooked Seed. Red Azalea, a memoir about her life growing up under the waning years Mao, is definitely a favorite of mine. It's received criticism due to the simplistic language and awkward translation, which I feel is ridiculous as she taught herself English, so of course it's going to read a bit raw. It's definitely a gripping story and deserves a read.
Anchee Min remembers with clarity and poignancy growing up during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). She experienced abject poverty, brutal physical hardship, first love, and loss, all during this extraordinary and terrifying period of China’s history.

A Pretty powerful and amazing book.
Caroline Smith
This memoir provides a good, brief overview of the Cultural Revolution in China from the perspective of a young girl. I remember reading somewhere that her favorite artist is one who has short strokes and she has modeled this book after such an idea with concise, short sentences. I imagine it is more difficult to write shorter sentences than longer, however, I found that the memoir read choppy. There were times when I wish she would have written longer descriptions and provided more explanation. ...more
Susan Robin
Feb 08, 2011 Susan Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a big Anchee Min fan, (1) because she writes about China and I can't read enough about that culture which is so foreign to ours and (2) much of her writing is memoir or at least semi-autobiographical. So, Big Deal, you say--almost every author has semi-autobiographical components to his/her writing--one writes what one knows! Okay, I agree, but Anchee Min's books are especially interesting because they are about the Cultural Revolution, of which Min was a part. In Red Azalea, Min writes abo ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Red Azalea - Anchee Min - Aubrey 2 9 Oct 29, 2014 05:19PM  
the Supervisor 1 26 Mar 06, 2012 05:52PM  
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Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She moved to the United States in 1984. Her first memoir, Red Azalea, was an international bestseller, published in twenty countries. She has since published six novels, including Pearl of China and the forthc ...more
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