May 2015 - Red Azalea - Anchee Min

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 version of one of Madame Mao’s political operas, Min’s life changed overnight. Then Chairman Mao suddenly died, taking with him an entire world.

A revelatory and disturbing portrait of China, Anchee Min’s memoir is exceptional for its candor, its poignancy, its courage and for its prose which Newsweek calls "as delicate and evocative as a traditional Chinese brush painting."


Anchee Min tells the story of her experiences in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. To understand a little about the Chinese political situation,  Min's story can help us to understand the human side of the story, the suffering and humiliation suffered by so many.

Unfortunately, some people in the group thought her story doesn't bring much new to the table, except perhaps the lesbian aspect of her sexuality. This aspect remains unexplored and instead seems almost inserted as an afterthought, for the purposes of titillation rather than real exploration.

There are many books about the Cultural Revolution. If one is interested in Ms. Min's story, they would do well to use it as a starting point for reading, rather than as a destination in itself. Too much is left unsaid; the situation leading to the Cultural Revolution was incredibly complex.

As light history, Ms. Min's book is interesting, but her writing is often stiff and without the fire that moves the reader.


Reviewed by Nabila Ahmad
Book group 2