** The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min


The Cooked Seed is the stunning memoir of a Chinese-American novelist who endured the Cultural Revolution in a labor camp, and as such reminded me forcefully of Bend, not Break, another memoir of a undomitable young woman who will make every sacrifice to get out of China and make her way through a daunting American university system, not knowing the language (although she had to pretend to speak it to be admitted in the first place), working multiple jobs and enduring the routine exploitation of illegal workers as well as the special miseries of a bad marriage. It’s hard to conceive that someone who struggled so hard to learn English would have become, of all things, a writer of novels, and the memoir makes for an uplifting story of how one can achieve almost anything with enough grit and determination.

The writing is terse and the mood always strictly matter-of-fact, which matches the wretchedness of the early parts of the memoir. As we move closer to the present the writing and the emotions it describe seem improbably abrupt — perhaps showing that one can survive an ordeal, but only with a tough shell that must get in the way once in a more normal life.

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