This memoir is written by Anchee Min in 2013, a sequel to Red Azalea, her first memoir (about growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution) which I read about 20 years ago.
This memoir is written at the urging of her daughter Lauryann, to whom she dedicates the book.
The story begins on 31 August 1984, when Anchee is about to land in Chicago. She was considered a “cooked seed” (meaning, no chance to sprout) in China. She also wrote about her memories of China, her good friend Chen Chong (better known as Joan Chen) since the days in Shanghai and her mother’s sister who lives in Singapore. She writes about the impact learning about pop music, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Prince, french fries, ketchup, the Virgin, Mary and Madonna, Michigan Avenue, Chicago Bears, going underground and illegal alien have on her.
In the next part of her book, she recounts her days as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois, her struggles in learning English and coping with the filmmaking class she was enrolled in, the various jobs (as many as five simultaneously – as waitress, fabric painter, attendant at the school’s film-equipment booth, administration office and student gallery) she had to juggle to make ends meet. She writes about being homesick and her hospitalisation ordeal, about being a victim of a money scam, about being raped, getting pregnant and abortion.
The middle sections of the book tells of her first visit back to China in 1987, how she met Qigu Jiang who later became her husband and a reluctant father, about how she bought her first property and all her struggles and failures. Despite all these, Anchee wrote her first novel, Katherine, which I’ve read and enjoyed.
Her daughter was born on 8 Oct 1991 and her new mantra became: Settling is temporary, while change is permanent. She most admired the character of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind because she was captured by how Scarlett survived as a female, the provider for her family and a woman of incredible resilience. I cheered when she eventually divorced Qigu and got custody of Lauryann. Many years later, she met and married Lloyd Lofthouse, someone she got to know through the Yellow Pages.
Together with Lloyd’s support and encouragement, Anchee was able to bring Lauryann up to be a confident young woman, fulfilling her dreams. She was also able to write her novels, Becoming Madame Mao, Wild Ginger, Empress Orchid, The Last Empress and Pearl of China. Happiness is now in her every cell. She counts her blessings every morning as she rises. The cooked seed has sprouted: “My root regenerated, deepened, and spread. I blossomed, thrived, and grew into a big tree.”