Title: The Cooked Seed
Author: Anchee Min
Anchee Min has written extensively about her life in China in the years prior to the Cultural Revolution, when she was chosen to be the star of propaganda films , and subsequent to that when China underwent a revolution that saw all and everything ever associated with Chairman Mao be destroyed. In The Cooked Seed she writes of the arduous journey from life as a peasant in the countryside; to a stint in a labour camp; to her years as a star of the propaganda machine; to her escape to the US as an art student to the Chicago Art Institute after the death of Chairman Mao and overthrowing of Madame Mao.
The book focuses more on her struggles in the US where she arrives not knowing more than ten words of English – having lied about her English proficiency on her visa application.
Her early years in the US were not easy – in fact these were quite horrific, as she lived on the fringes, constantly worrying about deportation and working menial jobs to get by. It’s a very personal telling of her struggles, but she still manages to infuse some humour in it, writing with what I found to be a very detached voice. After graduating, she applies for a Masters degree, anything to avoid going back to China. After a failed marriage, she raises her daughter alone, then remarries. The publication of her first book Red Azalea had its origins from a student essay she had written. Post the march on Tiananmen Square, Min, like many other Chinese who had supported this movement were granted political asylum and subsequently earned their green cards.
Even though she had escaped her life in China, at a huge personal cost, she comes across as someone still yearning for that same place. What is interesting to read are articles since written about Anchee Min about her having to de-romanticise Red China to many. She has fought hard to not be the poster child for socialism, and has always insisted that the horrors she writes about – the labour camps and the poverty were in fact the real China, not Chairman’s Mao’s proletariat heaven. The cooked Seed is a good, if tragic read.