Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Club Report: Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

This was our book club's 4th pick.

Short summary: Madame Mao, dubbed the "white-boned demon", is one of the most reviled women in recent history as many blame her for the excesses of China's cultural revolution. In this work of historical fiction, Min offers a more sympathetic portrait of a woman driven by ambition and a futile attempt to keep Chairman Mao's love.

The group's verdict: Only half the group (me included) was even able to finish this one. Madame Mao is definitely a fascinating personality but Min didn't do her any favors by choosing a strange writing style that shifts between first person present and third person present every other paragraph. This set-up seems especially senseless since both POVs are too close to Madame Mao's emotions - a lost opportunity for a more distanced assessment of her often reprehensible actions. Recommended only for those with a moderate to high interest in China and its history.

Up next: The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm. I'll be reading this one in its original German.

10 comments:

Becky said...

Thanks for sharing. I don't think I'll be reading this. It sounds like a complicated style.

Kathrin said...

Currywurscht! LOL Will you be having curried sausages for the book club meeting? ;-)

I doubt I'll be reading this one. It sounds too confusing. I prefer my writing clear and organized.

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for your review - I think I'll skip this one, even though Madame Mao sounds fascinating.

Lenore said...

That's a great suggestion Kathrin. I'll have to ask the host what she plans to serve :)

Wings said...

Pity you didnt like it it sounded ok..but yeah when authors play around too much with their writing it gets really messy.

you won an award btw :)

http://storywings.blogspot.com/2010/01/blog-awards.html

brizmus said...

Wow. . .I'd be interested to know what the people that finished said about it. Because I sort of ADORED this book. I read it ages ago, and I still think back about it sometimes.
I'm just, shocked, really. . .I was literally going around recommending this book to everyone. I guess I should be thankful that no one actually listened to me.

Lenore said...

Brizmus - I finished it and I liked it probably the most out of everyone (except perhaps the girl who chose the book).

I agree that I won't be forgetting it anytime soon!!

Charley said...

I enjoyed Empress Orchid a few years ago, and I have this one on my shelf, but I have yet to get to it. Very cool that you're reading a book in German!

Zibilee said...

I've read one book by Anchee Min in the past. I thought it was horrible, so it doesn't surprise me that some of your club couldn't finish this one. I don't like her writing style. It's very clunky and stiff to me. I hope your next club choice is better!

Anonymous said...

As Program Chair of my book club, this book was my selection to open our year of Modern Chinese Literature. This book is fabulous historical fiction, feminist manifesto, psychological study. Please do not let someone else's description of writing style or POV get in the way of your enjoyment of this amazing book.