Vanessa V. Friedman
June 23, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Becoming Madame Mao

Current Status
In Season
Anchee Min
Houghton Mifflin
Fiction, Historical Fiction

We gave it an A-

Madame Mao, the cruel ”white-boned demon,” was one of the figures most responsible for China’s Cultural Revolution. As seen in the historical novel Becoming Madame Mao through the eyes and imagination of Anchee Min — an author and actress who grew up in China — she was also insecure and love-starved. Born to a concubine, abandoned by both her father and her mother, she sought refuge in men: an idealistic student Communist, an older drama teacher, and finally Mao Zedong himself. For each, she became a different woman, embroidering and embellishing her life, down to a new name, until even she could no longer identify the border between reality and fantasy. In this convincing, nuanced portrait of a damaged personality, Min makes it clear that Madame Mao never had as great a role as the one she wrote for herself and played in her own skin. A-

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