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.
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 forthcoming memoir The Cooked Seed (Bloomsbury, May 7 2013).
There are two major themes in this memoir as far as I see it. The first is Foreignness. Anchee Min does not shield the reader from her foreignness, even when it may alienate her. I've read a lot of reviews that say they didn't like Min; how she handles her daughter, how she deals with people, her relationship with her ex-husband, her current husband, her family in China, etc. But I don't think the point of this book was to LIKE Anchee Min. It was for Min to give us her most honest self. And that is the other theme: honesty. BRUTAL honesty. Abortions, deceptions, sadness and all. When Min came to America and was trying her hardest to learn English, she would watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood everyday. She loved it when he would say into the camera, "The greatest gift you can offer someone is your honest self". She took that to heart, and that is what Anchee Min offers us here. Her honest self is sometimes unattractive, but isn't that true of us all? I think this might be the most truthful, honest memoir I've ever read, and it did feel like a gift in it's honesty. I react when people show their humanity, and so I liked this book, and I liked Anchee Min.
Anchee Min does not dwell on hardship. She does not dwell on emotion. The Cooked Seed picks up where her previous memoir, Red Azalea left off, focusing on her move to the United States in 1984 and her unwavering goal of getting a green card. The immigration experience can arguably rival her experience in the labor collective in China. Working on Madame Mao's propaganda films and in the labor camps, Min at least knows the language and the rules. She does not make excuses regarding either place.
"What makes you think you deserve to tell the story of your life, when your life is as plain as millions of Chinese?" Thankfully, Min does tell her story, often painful and desperate and sometimes shaming as we read her experiences in America. And like her heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, she remains steadfast in her pursuit of her American dream. And to her it is worth it.
Min balances successes and failures based on her quality of life in China. When a fellow student in Chicago commits suicide, she cannot understand. "But a pain that drove a young American to suicide regardless of his freedom and protected human rights was incomprehensible to me." Something to think about.
We follow Min through school, English, many menial jobs and missteps in relationships to the writing of her novels and motherhood.
The following is just one of the many recollections that Min shares that our basic wants and needs are not so different, and things aren't what they seem.
"I have been learning from my American daughter ever since she started kindergarten. At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher said, "There is not one mean bone in Luaryann's little body." My daughter was praised for making friends with a handicapped boy named Wilson, whose head shape was severely deformed. "Other kids stayed away, but Lauryann befriended him," the teacher reported. "She's been by his side, and they're doing everything together." "It's very kind of you to befriend Wilson," I said to Lauryann. "I am proud of you." "Mom, Wilson was the one," Lauryann replied. "What do you mean, 'Wilson was the one'?" "Wilson was the kind one, not me." I was surprised to find out that no one played with Lauryann. Wilson was the one who offered his friendship."
Because she comes to Chicago, I know exactly where/what and the how of what she remembers about her first American years. This is more than just a memoir to me. She knows my Chicago in all my time periods living there- for many of those over 50 years. The South side and SW sides. The academic and job struggles after 3 bus exchanges have taken all your hours. And it is not a Chicago that is often represented at all, as it actually is or was. Not in movies, tv nor in books. The Chicago that houses 3/4ths of the population and which does not sing about driving in on Lake Shore Drive, shopping on Michigan Ave, or polishing the Bean.
Hers is such a real story. Guts and failure- both. All there.
I like this one BETTER than Red Azalea. She sure deserves praise for telling it with all the warts. You do get beaten down and gather misconceptions, as she did. Do I know. Immigrants do, 1st generation do too. Especially if you are not the favored demographic and also hold an iron work ethic like Anchee. It was two strikes against her from the get-go.
And I cannot imagine doing it with the lack of language as she did, besides. What she left behind had to be so horrific that it is mind boggling to think how she just jumped without a net, so to speak.
Having read The Cooked Seed a couple of times and feeling like I want my five hours back, I realize that I want certain things from a book. I want the heroine to be likeable. I want her to have a dream. I want her actions to make some type of sense. Anchee is extremely judgmental. She criticizes: anyone in art school that actually wants to be an artist, anyone with rich parents, people who do small loads of laundry, welfare recipients, faculty that think they deserve better pay, attempted suicides (but not her – only if they’re American), her mother, her tenants, Mao, parents who give their kids music lessons, birthday parties, raincoats, etc., etc., on and on ad nauseam. Her wide-ranging contempt is not the expression of a refined sensibility. She’s just kind of bitchy. Her deepest contempt is reserved for her ex, Qigu. He doesn’t seem like such a bad guy – shiftless, passive-aggressive, but not evil. Her behavior throughout their relationship is difficult to comprehend. Though he tells her that he doesn’t want kids, she deliberately gets pregnant by him. Anchee becomes convinced that he is a bad influence on their daughter, Lauryann, because he sleeps late, watches TV, and laughs when Lauryann doesn’t want to do math. So Anchee kidnaps their child and moves to California, effectively depriving Qigu of a relationship with his daughter. Then, she faults him for spoiling Lauryann on the rare occasion that he is able to see her. I ended up sympathizing with Qigu. I suppose you could say that Anchee’s dream was to become an American. But she doesn’t seem to like America much, she just disliked China more. She went to college to become an artist, but not because she loves art, it’s just that the Art Institute of Chicago was the only place that would accept her. She wants to be loved, but wastes years with a man that doesn’t love her because she’s worried that her prince will never come. For many pages, I wondered, what does she care about? Do I need to care about someone who doesn’t care about anything? After a child insults her because she’s Chinese, she decides that her goal is to “introduce China and its people to Americans” through her books. And here’s where the book becomes interesting. For a few pages, she describes the catharsis of writing about her past, and her passion is electrifying. But all too soon we’re back to her mundane day-to-day existence. The rapturous reviews on the book’s back cover give me pause. There are people that my sister loves that I hate. And a memoir is basically a person telling you about themselves. My dislike is, I think, personal. The author is just someone I wouldn’t get along with. But I wouldn’t tell my sister not to read The Cooked Seed. She might like it. You might, too. I got this for free from Goodreads.
As Anchee Min’s newest book, The Cooked Seed, opens, she is about to land in Chicago. She has no money except a borrowed $500, does not speak English, and is terrified. She is 27 years old “and life had ended for me in China. I was Madame Mao’s trash, which meant that I wasn’t worth spit. I was considered a ‘cooked seed’ – no chance to sprout.”
By some miracle she has maintained a Visa and is accepted into the Chicago Art Institute. It appears that she has studied very little, if any, art but she attends classes and works several jobs at the same time. She frequently describes herself as crushed, defeated and fearful. Her goal is to get a green card and she has no idea how she can attain one.
Ms. Min was very ill in China and her health is fragile in the United States. She passes out many times and deals with coughing up blood, stomach problems, and other health issues. She has horrible memories of her time in Mao’s labor camps and is referred to a psychiatrist but she is unable to open up about her feelings.
She meets a man with whom she lives for six years. However, the relationship is not a good one. He sees himself as a sage and Ms. Min is practical. She works hard and he prefers to sleep or give out words of wisdom. She does have a child with him and Lauryann becomes the love of her life. It is interesting to me how much Ms. Min wanted a boy instead of a girl. This is a very cultural wish.
Reading about the way she raises Lauryann reminded me of the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Lauryann is raised very strictly and in the Chinese way. She helps her mother with duties like plumbing, electric work, painting, and construction. She has little time for play and is taught that she must work to attain goals from an early age. It obviously paid off academically because Lauryann gets into Stanford University.
Ms. Min builds up the courage to leave her partner and moves to California where she meets the man of her dreams. It takes a while but it happens through a dating service. Meanwhile, she has written several memoirs and novels and has become a very successful author.
I enjoyed the book but a lot of it was repetitive from Red Azalea which I read and loved. Ms. Min spends a lot of time on some of the same things that were covered in that book and which I feel could have been better edited. These are small criticisms as overall, the book is quite heartrending and educational. To see how Ms. Min triumphs over all her problems and obstacles is a miracle.
Thank you to Goodreads for this First Readers copy.
The story of an over-achiever who starts off right at the bottom and remains there for a very long time of her own choice whilst building up her future. Clever woman, clever writer, her story is as interesting as she is.
The first part of the book had me enthralled as I read about the author's life in Communist China and the tremendous hardship she and her family endured. I admired her resolve to find a better life for herself, and to do whatever it takes. Once she made it to the US,I felt as I got to "know" her a little more, that I really did not "like" her. I cringed as she made one poor decision after another- which, certainly the language barrier contributed to, but she was also terribly naive.
What really got me, was the way she treated her daughter. Shocking. I married into a Chinese family, and know that sometimes they have different approaches to things, but some of the things Anchee did made my hair stand on end. If Child Protective Services had been notified, her daughter just might have been put into foster care. I also was very distressed to read her reaction to her second husband's diagnosis of PTSD. Again, OMG!
This woman went from having my admiration and respect for what she went through to being an object of disgust. I have several of her books that I have not read yet, and now knowing more about her, am not sure I want to read them. This is on one hand, the classic immigrant story, and in another, a "Mommy Dearest".
I am listening to this book on CDs, but cannot locate this edition on Goodreads. Anyway, I have followed Anchee Min for years, and enjoyed "The Red Azalea" the most, but also her historical novels. This is the latest memoir. I could not help but want to read this. Having emigrated from another Communist country (Russia) myself, and having lived in Chicago for close to 20 years, I find a lot of very personal connections to Min's story. I was so much more fortunate, knew English well, had 3 yrs of college in Moscow behind me, had never been hungry or in a labor camp. But... the struggles of a "stranger in a strange land" are still very relatable. I enjoy her style, semi-linear, sort of a collection of short sketches describing her life. I am horrified at how frightening her experiences sound (both in China and in Chicago), and am amazed at her perseverance and ultimate success. Granted, this is a memoir, so the point of view is that of the protagonist, so who knows how much of this was actually as described. Still fascinating. So far I am on disk 5 out of 14.
Once upon a time, I had a vague idea that I grew up poor in a trailer park in South Carolina. Then I read Angela's Ashes and never again thought I was poor.
Once upon a time, I had a vague idea I had worked hard from time to time. Then I read The Cooked Seed and again, my view of myself was redefined completely.
Anchee Min came to the US on the wings of a lie and stayed here by clawing her way to a green card through amazing determination and hard work. Really hard work. And here is her story, told in brutally honest detail. I do not feel she tried to paint herself in a better light, as one would be sorely tempted to do in a memoir. There are times her flaws are glimpsed, and other times when they shine through. But this makes this autobiography that much more interesting to me. She is a person who has done the best she can with what she has--indeed, I think she does better than most of us would. She has survived many traumas and hardships, and yet she still loves China and the US, neither of which were particularly nice to her. She is the opposite of our current culture of blaming someone else. She does not waste time blaming, but moves on. Sometimes, she might have been better served if she had pressed charges, made accusations, etc. But this is not who she is, or how she things, for better or for worse.
Cooked by Seed by Anchee Min is a realistic, personal narrative about her struggle to come to America and succeed there. She arrives in Chicago with barely any money, no friends and little English. Anchee exhibits inner strength, determination, resourcefulness as she faces many challenges. At times, I felt sorry for her as she was swindled and I also disagreed with some of her child rearing philosophies. But Anchee is relating her personal memoir in an honest, brutal fashion (abortion, deceptions, how she learned English, her marriages and earning money). "The greatest gift you can give someone is your honest self".
I was fascinated by the details of how Min outsmarted the system and was able to immigrate to the U.S. from the horrors of her life in China. Her life in the U.S. was no picnic, either, but she comes across as wily, resilient and strong-willed...almost to a fault. Some of the chapters in the second half of the book dragged a bit with, to my mind, unnecessary detail, but overall it's worth reading. Min's quirky personality shines through via the stories and her writing voice.
I really love Anchee Min's work, and this memoir is touching and a compelling read. It provides such a window into the author's psyche. As a story of cultural dislocation and of the lasting impact of hardship and fear, it's vital reading. On some level it reminds me of Angela's Ashes, though very different, it is a story of struggle and survival. I was amazed to learn that Red Azalea was written when the author was still struggling with the English language. I have an affection for good memoirs and this met my expectations.
I find that I enjoy works by Chinese and Indian authors a great deal, much more than those from some other cultures. I've given it some thought and decided there is something in the essential nature of those countries that is like our American culture. Despite the very drastic differences, I find a core that connects me to writers from those cultures. Anchee Min's work is an example of that accessibility. Anyhow, how can I fail to admire an author who adopted Scarlett O'Hara as a heroine for the same reasons I admire her- pluck and a willingness to adapt to survive. Just like Anchee Min.
The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min is a book I almost didn’t read. Min’s life is so full of misfortune and mistakes that I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn about it. Even now, I’m surprised at the way the book is written.
Her youth in China is hard to read about, much less to live through, and I was drawn to her because she survived and worked so hard to get to America and change her life. Her choices and ethics, once in American, though, put me off. Another negative is the way Min expresses some of her ideas crudely, perhaps just being matter of fact, but making word choices that are unnecessarily negative and in conflict with some of her descriptions, i.e. loneliness being “like the roof of a bamboo hut but under the weight of snow (67).
Early in the book, she writes, “I made a great leap forward in English one day. I experienced my first comprehension of a complete sentence. I owed it to Mr. Roger’s TV program. He said, ‘The best gift you can offer is your honest self.’ …What a thrill to feel worthy! It had never occurred to me that my honest self could be a best gift to anyone” (68). During this part of the book, I was totally with Min, but she doesn’t retain a sense of self worth for long.
She is unfortunate in the extreme, but also gullible. When she goes to China in 1987, for the first time in three year, she finds herself in conflict with her family, and I feel they are right. Even though they don’t know that she has been raped by her roommate, undergone an abortion and robbed by con artists, I think they are right when they confront her about not helping them. Her response is to try to see a friend and to send the friend a check for four hundred dollars. Why wouldn’t she give that to her family instead?
Qigu is a bad choice from the beginning, and I found myself surprised that Sandra Dijkstra offers to be her agent and treats her fairly. Getting green cards and advance for $75,000 is a well deserved reward, but staying with Qigu and putting the money in real estate? She is repeatedly cheated by contractors, tenants, and other, yet she seems to learn nothing from her experiences. In fact, she’s almost as deceitful, for example, making a unilateral decision to have a baby. No wonder Qigu delays marrying and doesn’t provide a ring.
I was pleased that Min left him, remarried, parented her daughter Lauryann to mature independence and built loving relationships with both the girl and her new husband. I just don’t understand much of Min’s perspective or how it is that she doesn’t reflect more on her choices as she tells the story of her life. Given her experiences, I would at least expect her to comment on what she would do differently if given the chance.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Memorable since the story is real and dramatic. But... left a nasty taste in my mouth. I simply HATED the protagonist/narrator. If Anchee Min described herself honestly (and why wouldn't she, since the book so unflattering), then she is an amoral, horrible person, cruel, dishonest, lacking any self-reflection or compassion. Yes, of course, her hard journey from a prisoner in Maoist labor camp to a successful American novelist, is truly dramatic and inspiring. But...after so many lies (to get to America, to get into college, to gain legal status, to have a child, to marry....), I am not even sure whether I trust that she actually had written all those other books, given her language difficulties. Did someone translate them into English for her? Her writing style is uneven, inconsistent. Details are often missing. Where were her - so praised - editors? And the horrible cruelty to her daughter! OMG! And to find an American second husband, a school teacher, who seems to be just as clueless about children and empathy as she is! I am expecting that one day her daughter will write her own memoir: about being practically kidnapped by mom, taken illegally away from dad, raised in privation and hard labor all for the sake of "making it in America". Hard to believe that this girl got all those accolades in dance and art without good teachers, time to practice (since she was made to fix tenant's toilets as a pre-teen!). As an immigrant from Russia, I can understand the drive to succeed, but having your child pay the price for your ambition is, IMHO, immoral. Tricking a man into impregnating you and then marrying is not unheard of, but whining about not having a dream wedding or a proper ring under these circumstances is just plain - ewwww. I don't know if I will ever read any of Anchee Min's writings in the future, and of her husband Lloyd Lofthouse either....
No le deseo ni a mi peor enemigo lo que tuvo que sufrir Anchee Min a su llegada a Estados Unidos desde la China comunista. Poca gente habrá en el mundo con la fuerza de voluntad y terquedad de esta mujer para salir adelante como lo hizo. Ha sido un libro muy duro de leer, pero rebosa sentimiento y dulzura por cada pasaje; es por eso que lo recomiendo mucho, pero hay que evitar estar en una etapa muy sensible para poder disfrutarlo bien.
«La ópera china Los amantes mariposa me enseñó que no había mejor manera de vivir que morir por un amor verdadero. A los chinos nos educaban para apreciar la tragedia. Yo vivía sumida en la tragedia. Me identificaba con personajes trágicos. Solo después de verme expuesta a la cultura y sociedad americanas, me di cuenta de que no había mucho que ensalzar en la tragedia. Por primera vez, fui consciente de que entregarse al pensamiento trágico era un modo de vida chino, pero no sano.»
I've read Anchee Min's previous works and enjoyed them all. This one however fell short, way short. As others have said, the first chapters are fairly compelling, but as the story moves on, it becomes disjointed, and just does not ring true. I realize this is a memoir, but the language issue really confounded me. The discussions she had with her new college roommate the first week of her arrival to America regarding things like Reagan and politics, I had a hard time buying into those discussions because at the same time she talks about not speaking any English. As the book progresses I like her less and less. I felt absolutely no emotional connection to any of the characters. Well perhaps I felt one emotion, and that was for her daughter. I'd give this book only one star, but I'm adding one because of the strength of her previous works. If this was the first of her books I'd read, I wouldn't read another.
I am having trouble overcoming the fact that the author effectively cheated and lied to get her way into America when she was young. Call it survival instinct. Call it 'wanting a better future'. It just feels wrong.
If it wasn't still happening even to these days, it would have been easy to overlook it. Unfortunately experiences such as her are still repeated by unscrupulous Asian students who do no possess any sense of integrity/morality in trying to make their way to the US or get a Green card.
It's all about gaming the system at the end of the day.
This memoir reads like a book of self-justification. Perhaps it's the way she thinks/writes in Chinese and how it translates into English in text.
Anchee Min shares her personal stories of immigrating to America with honest, simple prose. You can feel her vulnerability being here with barely any money, no friends, and little English. Yet her quiet strength and determination to make it in America shines through in her writing. Her resourcefulness and resilience in getting through the many difficult challenges she faced is inspiring and makes one appreciate what many of us take for granted--our basic freedom. Though having read her first memoir, Red Azalea, or even her book Katherine will provide you with additional insight to what life was like for her and her family in Communist China, she provides enough background in this memoir to understand why she left and how difficult it was to get out.
I don't think the point of this book was to LIKE Anchee Min. It was for Min to give us her most honest self. And that is the other theme: honesty. BRUTAL honesty. Abortions, deceptions, sadness and all. When Min came to America and was trying her hardest to learn English, she would watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood everyday. She loved it when he would say into the camera, "The greatest gift you can offer someone is your honest self". She took that to heart, and that is what Anchee Min offers us here. Her honest self is sometimes unattractive, but isn't that true of us all? I think this might be the most truthful, honest memoir I've ever read, and it did feel like a gift in it's honesty. I react when people show their humanity, and so I liked this book, and I liked Anchee Min
This book and Anchee Min embodies the meaning of human perseverance and determination. She is only 55 but has already lived so many different lives. The resilience she had to have had to survive the cultural revolution China and the fortitude to find a way to live and come to the United States where she did not know the language nor did she have someone waiting for her. That she became a successful author is amazing. This book is straightforward, not emotional, just matter of fact. This is what she did, what happened and how she overcame adversity to become what she is today. I found it all absolutely amazing. ARC from NetGalley and publisher.
I don't mind a book with an unlikable protagonist, but it's a little trickier when the main character is the author herself.
I've been reading Anchee Min's books since Red Azalea some 25 years ago. This warts-and-all follow-up is still a good read; the bravery required for Min to come to America with just $500 and no English makes for a good story. But even as you forgive her for ditching her dorm roommate for another girl who treats her like a novelty, and you can't help but wince as she gets taken for her last dollars by a pair of con artists, as the story goes on, and she makes stupid choice after stupid choice, eventually living with a shiftless "artist" who persuades her to buy a dilapidated Chicago rental building that they spend endless, futile hours renovating, your sympathy begins to dry up. Lightly tossing around words like retarded, and some possible casual racism, just adds to the bad feeling.
I've seen other reviewers on here who are extra critical of Min's treatment of her daughter Lauryann, whom she treats as a hired contractor when they move to California and buy their own rental building. That didn't bother me nearly as much as when Min is critical of Beavis and Butt-Head, A SHOW ON MTV FOR TEENAGERS OR OLDER, for teaching her elementary school-aged daughter "disrespect." I sincerely get that there is still somewhat of a language barrier, but it shouldn't take five minutes to see that that is not a show for your six year-old! But it gets better (worse), for instead, "I made Lauryann watch what I believed were quality shows. People's Court, Judge Judy, 60 Minutes, 20/20, and The Magic School Bus." For God's sake, woman!
Eventually, Min remarries an American Vietnam veteran whom she met through a dating company. He's estranged from his son and has been married multiple times before, and seems like a bit of a dick, but they sound happy together, I guess.
I only have one of Min's published novels left unread, and I think it will take the passage of some time before I'll be interested in anything else she has to say.
As immigrant narratives go, this was both brutal and well-written, but at times it felt like the torture porn would never end. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong for Anchee Min. She almost never catches a break until the end. Still, I appreciated that she did not make her story more palatable for Western audiences. At times, her narrator is stubbornly, shockingly unlikable and I liked that. What bothered me about this hefty autobiographical novel was the avalanche of terrible and outlandish events that kept besieging our heroine. I don't deny that the immigrant experience can be traumatic as hell, but there was just too much to cope with here and it sometimes made the book ridiculous, especially because the narrator often seemed to attract the trouble due to her attitude or behavior. . That being said, the novel was very moving and engaging and I appreciate the author's attempt at painting a less than flattering picture of herself. I am interested in reading her historical novels, but I don't know if I'll pick up her other autobiographical novel because I don't think I could stomach it.
This is a continuation of Red Azalea. "The Cooked Seed," meaning Anchee, who had to leave China because she was known as Madame Mao's "trash" for having been a lead in one of Madame Mao's operas. When the Cultural Revolution came to a grinding halt, and Madame Mao was imprisoned, Anchee found herself on a plane to America to start her life over again in freedom.
As many immigrants have discovered, America is the land of the free, but it is not paved with gold. Anchee had to work long and hard to learn English and go to "art" school in order to keep a green card to stay in America. She lived in the poor side of town in order to survive. Anchee was even raped by a roommate from China. She lived with another Chinese man who, being an artist, and one of a free spirit, did not pull his weight financially. Anchee and this man bought a run down apartment, and every free moment, Anchee was fixing leaks, putting up new ceilings, walls, etc. The tenants trashed the appliances and the apartments. The inspectors were critical, often citing fines that Anchee had to pay. Between the fines, the fixes, and the mortgage, life was beyond difficult. When Anchee's first book was published, she was able to pay off the mortgage.
Anchee's time for having a baby was "ticking," and she became pregnant with the artist. They finally got married, but Anchee grew tired of being the breadwinner and the motivator in their marriage. She packed up her luggage and her young daughter and moved to California. She continued to write, to publish, and to find a new man who she would marry and be devoted to her and to her daughter.
Anchee faced one problem after another in her life, both in China and in America. She was scammed and taken advantage of so many times. Only in her later life has she found peace and recognition. She and her husband worked hard to ensure that their now grown daughter would attend Stanford University. Anchee faced all odds in two countries...An interesting and "heavy" read.
Anchee Min says she didn't know a word of English when she arrived in the US but (p. 39) she told the immigration officer at O'Hare, "Do you mean I can go to Chicago? Is that what you just said?" Later she asks her roommate what "anyway" means and tells people "Sorry, me no English." Someone who does not know the meaning of "anyway" would say something like "I go Chicago?" So, when she wrote of her 6 year old daughter on a ladder helping to fix a ceiling or hauling drywall, I didn't take it literally; There is a lot else in this book that's hard to take literally.
Min's work-a-holism and Tiger Mom-ism are probably as she describes them, and may be more extreme. She unabashedly writes of ignoring student visa rules by not attending classes so that she can work 5 jobs (some under the table) and of her daughter: (p. 345) she "Lauryann should be proud of the fact that both Lloyd and I had given her the highest score.... She remained doubtful of her writing abilities."
Min's story may represent that of many of the new Asian immigrants. To do what she did, regardless of her true English ability upon arrival, would take the kind of determination described here. The help required of Lauryann on the rental properties or the "vacation" for Lauryann in Shanghai are probably akin to the experiences of children of the achieving children of first generation Asian merchants and proprietors. It will be interesting to see how the "Tiger-raised" generation raises their own children.
Like all Min books, this is highly readable, even as the time switches back and forth as it does towards the end. Min shows little interest in history other than that of China's Revolution and Cultural Revolution, so it doesn't give much perspective on my favorite of her works Empress Orchid
Anchee Min's life as an immigrant student in America.
Having read and enjoyed Empress Orchid and Pearl of China (both 4 stars), I was looking forward to reading The Cooked Seed, before Anchee Min comes to our literary festival in March. Unfortunately her memoir didn't involve me in the same way that her historical fiction had.
Although I hadn't read the first installment, Red Azalia, this wasn't a problem as Ms Min's life in China was covered in the first 10% of The Cooked Seed. I think her early life would have been a more interesting read than her life as a struggling immigrant student in America, whose main worry was obtaining the Green Card and the right to remain in the country. While I can sympathise with her concerns, it didn't make for very exciting reading.
When Anchee Min arrived in America in 1984, she spoke no English. Her first 6 months were spent attending English classes to raise her knowledge of the language to a level where she could study. She scraped a living together by working five jobs at the same time and carried her Chinese/English dictionary everywhere. Her determination to succeed was amazing. She made a number of mistakes - got conned out of her savings and then invested in a run-down tenement block with standing tenants, which involved a constant run of repairs and renewals. She made a lot of bad choices, including marrying a man who she didn't really love.
I don't know if it was the way the book seemed to turn into a series of anecdotes that left me underwhelmed, but the first half was definitely more interesting than the second and although I didn't struggle to finish, my interest had definitely waned. I definitely plan to read Red Azalia at some time, however.
I found Red Azalea a somewhat frustrating read because of the halting English, but Anchee Min's story was so fascinating that I couldn't resist picking up this follow-up memoir.
Her Chinese immigrant story is, in many ways, just like every other Chinese immigrant story from that period, full of deprivation and horror, guilt and self-doubt, and the ceaseless worry about "making it" and repaying your debt to the family who sacrificed their own opportunities so you could have yours. In the end, what makes Anchee Min truly stand out - in my eyes - is the fact that she made it by writing books in English! Getting your work in print is such an elusive goal to many; the fact that someone barely fluent in English could write an entire manuscript in English, attract a top agent and publisher, get a huge advance, then go on to have a successful career writing more books in English is simply amazing, inspiring, and - if not for the fact that I have her books on my shelf! - unbelievable.
Some parts of The Cooked Seed were difficult to read, not because of the content but because the writing, to me, is still somewhat stilted, especially the dialogue. It felt like she was translating directly from the Chinese. Still, it is a worthwhile read, especially if you finish Red Azalea thinking that the author achieves happily-ever-after as soon as she flees Communist China for America's magical embrace. Being a new immigrant was just part 2 of her struggles.
This memoir is an account of Anchee Min's life in the United States where she came from China on a student visa. To me, it read more like random memories, kind of like late night ramblings. The time line seemed all over the place. I have to admire her determination and her work ethic, but could only shake my head at the number of times she was duped and taken advantage of. So much of the life she describes seemed so bleak, yet she held on to her American dream. There was little in the book to explain why this was so. Her attachment to her parents was strong, but I wondered what became of her three siblings. They were angry that she was able to emigrate and they were denied visas and then we heard nothing else about them. it was as though Anchee had become an only child. Her love of China, her homeland, was evident even in light of all the hardships endured there. She went back to China often with her daughter--fifteen years in a row. That was hard to fit with her claim to be near destitute for so many years. I did like the image of the "cooked seed"--one that can not spout and therefore good for nothing. She overcame that self perception, but I was left feeling all the strain and very little of the joy.