Seven years after she kicked off the Women's Connection's first International Women Authors Event, best-selling Chinese-American author Anchee Min returns to the Quad-Cities next week.
She will discuss her most recent memoir "The Cooked Seed," a followup to her award winning memoir of communist China, "Red Azalea," at the eighth annual authors event Nov. 6 at the Rogalski Center, St. Ambrose University, Davenport.
Entertainment Weekly wrote of "The Cooked Seed": "Min's story serves as both a love letter to her adopted country and a poignant wake-up call to Americans who take our freedoms for granted."
The New York Times has called her “a wild, passionate and fearless American writer.”
Ms. Min's new book tells the story of her struggles to find herself in a new land. After a brutal life under communist dictator Mao Zedong, she was 27 when she immigrated in 1984 from Shanghai to Chicago.
In a recent interview from her home near San Francisco, Ms. Min said she was the cooked seed in China because it was “impossible to sprout. It was in America I sprouted and grew into a flowering tree. I started out living in a deprived neighborhood, the bottom of American society.
“It's the opportunity in America that I sprouted," she said. "I'm thriving; I say it's a miracle."
Ms. Min credits English with giving her a means to express herself, arming her with the voice and vocabulary to write about growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. She knew no English when she immigrated, alone.
“There was no way for me to describe those experiences or talk about those feelings in Chinese,” she has said.
At 17, Ms. Min was sent to a labor camp near the East China Sea, where she endured mental and physical hardships, which included a severe spinal cord injury.
She worked three years before talent scouts spotted her toiling in a cotton field. Madame Mao, preparing to take over China, was looking for a leading actress for a propaganda film. Ms. Min was chosen for her “proletarian” look, but Mao died before the film was complete, and Madame Mao, blamed for the disaster of the revolution, was sentenced to death.
Ms. Min was labeled a political outcast by association. She was disgraced, punished and forced to perform menial tasks at the Shanghai film studio.
"I was isolated. My friends were not allowed to talk to me. They punish you," Ms. Min said. "People just avoid me like they avoid disease. I would be unpaid, do the work of three persons. I had no way to survive in China. You either jump in the river or come to America, not knowing anybody, but there is such possibility."
In 1984, with the help of a friend in Los Angeles, Ms. Min came to Chicago and attended the Art Institute of Chicago (she previously had just a middle school education). She spoke no English but within six months taught herself the language in part by watching “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
She worked five jobs at the same time, surviving on three hours of sleep per night. "I had no weekends, no vacation, no family. That was the hardest. I was here alone," Ms. Min said.
She pursued writing after a teacher said she was lousy at English, but she had "good material" to work with.
"The Cooked Seed" has been featured on China national TV as an example of "an immigrant fighting for her own life and a success story," Ms. Min said. "They need to use that. China is going through this migration from a peasant country, moving to an industrialized, urban society. It's like a new country for them."
Ms. Min, who has a daughter who graduated from Stanford, has written six works of historical fiction, aiming to re-record histories that have been falsely written. “If my own history is recorded falsely, how about other people?
"It's what I can do for this country, what I know about China," Ms. Min said. "I don't see any writers born and lived in China for 27 years who offer what I do. It's useful, valuable, solid knowledge of China.
"I was brainwashed," she said of life under Mao. "It's an ideology. I saw these videos about ISIS, who said they love to fight and die killing Americans. It very much reminded me of when I was a child, the fascination for martyrdom. The seduction, to seduce young minds."