walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Cooked Seed_, Anchee Min

This was the March book club selection for Mayberry's (<-- not its real name) adult book group. The author's name is pronounced Ann-chee.

This memoir can be thought of as part of a series. An earlier entry depicts her years as a/in the Red Guard, Mao's youth paramilitary organization; this one refers to incidents covered in _Red Azalea_ in more detail. _The Cooked Seed_ begins with her arrival in the United States. She attends art school while trying to figure out how to get a green card; ultimately, her work permit woes are solved by the blanket delivery of green cards to everyone involved, in China or abroad, in the 1987 uprising.

The author learns English, learns to navigate an increasingly dangerous Chicago and works her way up the ladder to prosperity. Along the way, she is harmed and helped by fellow immigrants and other Americans.

Typically, one or more people in our book group fails to finish the book; this time, everyone read it all the way through. It is a book packed with incident, written in a deceptively simple and compelling style. The author has great skill at recollecting her younger, inner self and the emotions and beliefs she once had, and conveying that knowledge to the reader. This is particularly impressive, in that the reader is carried along, despite the author (protagonist's?) often unlikeable character.

The book also inadvertently makes a really compelling case for labor law (limitations on what children can do, wage minimums, safety rules, etc.) and for immigration reform to make it easier for immigrants to get the right to work so as to drain the underground work market.

Because the author brought her daughter back to China repeatedly to visit her parents and siblings and her daughter's father's family, the author also portrays the vast changes that occurred in China after her original departure. It is way too easy in the United States to retain a very out-of-date idea of what other places in the world are like, and this book goes some ways to correcting those misapprehensions.

Oddly, some of the people in the book group who liked the book less than the average, and really disliked the character of the protagonist/author, nevertheless intend to read some of her other work. I'm not sure what that means, but it seems really cool to me.
Tags: book review
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