Red Azalea
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Red Azalea

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  4,901 ratings  ·  388 reviews
Red Azalea is Anchee Min’s celebrated memoir of growing up in the last years of Mao’s China. As a child, she was asked to publicly humiliate a teacher; at seventeen, she was sent to work at a labor collective. Forbidden to speak, dress, read, write, or love as she pleased, she found a lifeline in a secret love affair with another woman. Miraculously selected for the film v...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 11th 2006 by Anchor (first published 1993)
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Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
177th out of 2,447 books — 2,762 voters
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China's Best Banned Books
4th out of 45 books — 32 voters


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Community Reviews

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William
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
Aubrey
4.5/5

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...more
Chrissie
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
Michael Arden
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
Yvette
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
Vasha7
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
Karo
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
Gianna
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...more
Margaret
Aug 13, 2011 Margaret added it
Shelves: 2007
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
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...more
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...more
Sarah
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...more
Agatha
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
Mmars
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...more
Nancy
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
PJ
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.
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
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
Karissa
I have a particular fascination with Cultural Revolution stories, and this was no different. I was really interested in the elements of her story, just to hear the experiences she had and what life under Communist China was like at that time. However, I found her writing somewhat distracting. As someone who does speak Chinese, I got the distinct feeling that she was directly translating things into English from Chinese, in ways that somehow felt a little abstract or out of place in English. That...more
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...more
Marcy
Anchee Min could not have been more honest, telling her own story of despair regarding the Cultural Revolution. Even before Anchee had to leave her parents for the countryside, her family had to move from a roomy and comfortable home to a crowded floor where workers would file in to the bottom floor each morning, in order to weld wires in a cable and wire hardware workshop, releasing toxic chemicals that Anchee's family would smell all day. At school, Anchee was a superior student, devoted to th...more
Gabriela
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.
Louise
Anchee Min was 9 years old, she was the perfect revolutionary and had memorized Mao's 'Little Red Book'. Anchee Min, in 1966 was caught up in the Cultural Revolution that had begun to turn Chinese society inside out.

Min was too young to understand public criticisms and thought she was fighting for the "final peace of the plant." She then found the hardship and brutality of oppression catching up with her.

Min was sent to serve the revolution as a peasant when she was 17 years old. She left her fa...more
Allee
A really interesting (true) story, but a bit overwrought and melodramatically written at times for my taste, especially near the end. Maybe there's no other way to write about torrid forbidden young love though. (The story, btw, is about a girl during the Cultural Revolution in China and her assignment first to a commune and then to rigorous acting training and auditions, with a few desperate romantic encounters along the way).

Now that I think about it, I may be underwhelmed because I've read s...more
Tiffany
Dec 02, 2008 Tiffany rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the Cultural Revolution in China
Recommended to Tiffany by: I find books on my own, haha.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patricia
I read this book as I was slated to lead a discussion Pearl of China for our bookclub. I found Anchee Min's story so powerful and so frightening that the Cultural Revolution took place in my lifetime. Min describes how her family was forced into smaller an smaller living spaces, her schooling which was nothing more that memorization of the communist party line and having to prove her loyalty to the party even as a child. In her teenage years she was sent to perform backbreaking work on a farm f...more
Rannie
An autobiography of a young woman coming of age during the Cultural revolution in China. Min takes us from a tenement above a factory in Shanghai to a forced labor farm to the luxurious home of one of Mao's inner circle to illustrate the inequality in Mao's communism. Rigidly enforced chastity, spying on neighbors, and the constant fear of denouncement and relocation leave the people so dispirited there is no joy, no hope, no chance to improve one's lot or even escape in a private moment of pass...more
Melki
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
Laura
I couldn't believe Anchee Min (who knew no English upon her arrival) had only been in the USA for a decade when she published this memoir. It's her early life growing up in Mao's China and the story of the cultural revolution. The absolute disregard for the individual was appalling to me--all was done for the "party." What a good book for all Americans, who have so many choices in their lives--politically, emotionally, sexually, educationally, etc., to read. Even though her written English sente...more
Isabella
Perhaps there may be some bias because I am of Chinese descent, and therefore can understand her struggles and beliefs, but I cannot hide my disappointment with some of the extremely low ratings and reviews. Many of the complaints are about her constant use of simplistic, crude dialogue. Being a Chinese-American, I can understand why readers would see her language as strange, but this is only because she is directly translating all the dialogue into English. In Chinese, this paragraph,

"She was a...more
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the Supervisor 1 22 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
More about Anchee Min...
Empress Orchid (Empress Orchid, #1) The Last Empress (Empress Orchid, #2) Pearl of China Becoming Madame Mao Wild Ginger

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