Archive | 10:41 AM

Book Review: Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min (2/5)

24 Sep

This is one of the last book calendar recommendations I have left to go through. I decided to read it as an ebook even though I own it because I thought it would help me get through the book faster. It took me six months to read this book. I’m not happy with that at all, but at least I got through it. The time it took might have to do with how I felt about it.

Cover image via Goodreads

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Summary from Goodreads:

This is an evocation of the woman who married Chairman Mao and fought to succeed him. The unwanted daughter of a concubine, she refused to have her feet bound, ran away to join an opera troupe and eventually met Mao Zedong in the mountains of Yenan.

The storytelling in this book wasn’t my favorite. It bounced back and forth between first-person and third-person and the formatting in the ebook didn’t make it obvious when the change was taking place. It’s a little more formatted in the book, but still not very easy to understand. I didn’t like the switch back and forth and it would take me out of the story a lot. It was interesting to hear how Jiang Ching maneuvered herself to be where she was and how many lies she told about herself. I did like the details of how art played into Mao’s reign which is a side I hadn’t heard detailed as much before. I also hadn’t known the first lady was involved with it as Jiang Ching was.

Min pained very realistic images of Mao and Jiang Ching. Mao was a good leader but his paranoia and focus outside of leadership lead him astray. Jiang Ching tried very hard to use her talents and passions to guide the country which I felt was something someone in her position could do and do well. They were strong and weak people at the same time. Their rise from a cave to the highest position in the country was long and hard and they fought well for it. It made the reward sweeter and harder to adapt to. Part of me wished they were still in a cave at the end because they were so much happier there.

I didn’t like any of the characters. Jiang Ching, Mao, and Nah were the only three who appeared often enough and for long enough that I kept track of them. Nah was ungrateful and flippant. Jiang Ching and Mao were both too flawed and single-mindedly obsessed with power for me to like them. Maybe I could have respected them, but not liked them. All of the other people seemed to appear just as they were about to fail so I never got too attached to any of them.

I feel like Jiang Ching’s nervousness and paranoia could be described today as a little like imposter syndrome. She always felt like someone was going to come to her and say her time was over, she wasn’t supposed to be there and she needed to go back to the cave she came from. I’ve felt that at times, as I’m sure a lot of other people have. Maybe with friends who are more successful than you or at a job where you’re getting paid a lot. I know I’ve felt that way before and that was a part of Jiang Ching’s story I could relate to.

Anchee Min
Image via the author’s website

I found the story of Jiang Ching’s early romantic life to be the most interesting, but I didn’t like it a lot. The politics at the end dragged for me and I didn’t enjoy them, but the marriages and running away and acting of her early life was really interesting. It was crazy to me that someone with that much uncertainty and change in her life could settle into life as the first lady of China.

All of the conspiracy theories at the end were boring and repetitive to me. They all seemed the same and they all ended the same way. I lost interest and it made the end of the book drag for me and probably contributed to my long read time and why I disliked it.

China’s political system under Mao wasn’t sustainable and the book highlights the deep cracks that existed under his regime. I thought it was an interesting angle to take on the story, highlighting Mao’s wife, but her strong role in the country makes her a great choice to share this story. I don’t know much about that period of history in China and Jiang Ching’s perspective was a good one to take to see multiple sides of it.

Writer’s Takeaway: The perspective switches in this book really hurt my enjoyment of it. I wondered if the parts in first-person were from a diary at first, but I don’t think that was the case. I wish Min had picked one perspective and stuck with it, I may have enjoyed the story more. That is one of the main reasons I’m giving the book such a low rating

Overall, a bit cumbersome and too long-winded at the end. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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