Tuesday, December 31, 2013



Q: Favorite authors?

A: I go through books and authors in phases.  That said, I remember how accomplished I felt after reading The Golden Notebook  by Nobel laureate Doris Lessing.  A true masterpiece. So she's a favorite. I also love Wuthering Heights.  Emily Bronte wrote one of the most original books in English literature.  Among contemporary authors, I really like Elizabeth Gilbert.  She inspires me. 

Q: Favorite book?

A: Wuthering HeightsThe Golden Notebook  is a close second.

Q: Favorite genres?

A: Memoirs and biographies.  Novels, too.

Q: What inspired you to write The Honeyeater?

A: I really don't know, except to say that I felt compelled to write it.

Q: We've never seen a negative review by you.  Why?

A: I make an effort to write reviews of books I really really like (4 stars) or absolutely love (5 stars).  I made a conscious decision to do that.  I just don't want to be panning a book or an author.  I've actually started to read a book for review and halfway through decided I did not like/love it, or it wasn't what I expected, or whatever.  When this happens, I change books.

Q: Chick lit?  or Contemporary romance?

A: If I thought too long about it I might be offended by the term 'chick lit'.  But I don't. It's a term that emerged from our culture.  'Chicks'.  Of course, there's no such thing as 'guy lit', as far as I know.  That's something to ponder.  But I don't dwell on it.  It's best to focus on more important issues, like global warming/climate change, starving children, world peace, etc.

Q: In your essay, "How I Wrote My Second Novel", you write that you did research for The Honeyeater.  What kind of research?

A: I wanted the book to feel authentic, so I was scrupulous about all the details.  I researched the news events.  I wanted to depict all the historical/news details accurately.  I researched furniture and art.  One  character in the book is very stylish, elegant, regal in a Chanel-type suit.  So I researched that.  Also, foods--a recipe.  I researched names of places and characters. I also consulted a world map, to guide me throughout.

I'm very detail-oriented, in general, so it was second-nature to me to be very detailed as I wrote The Honeyeater.

Q: To Sequel or not to Sequel?

A: That is the question! A sequel hadn't occurred to me until recently.  That there might be something else to say about these characters.  Earlier this year, I began to think about Eulalia's life after  The Honeyeater  ends.  So who knows? I've jotted down a few notes. That's all I care to say.  I like to take a long time germinating ideas for a book. 

Q: Do you have a favorite character from the book?

A: Eulalia is a favorite, of course.  I love how she grew and changed and developed.  She was so in love, but very naive. What she lived through might have broken any one of us.

Q: How did you prepare to write this novel?

A: I had reams of paper, folders with newspaper and magazine clippings.  Journal entries.  Huge envelope filled with notes.  From those notes, I created my outline and synopsis.  In addition, I researched online and offline: the encyclopedia and dictionary are invaluable resources to me as a writer.

Also, all of my reading helped prepare me to write The Honeyeater. And I don't think I could have written it before I wrote my first book.  Although they are different genres and styles, I needed the experience of having written  Porridge & Cucu.  I learned so much as I wrote it, and those lessons helped me to write The Honeyeater.

For more details, read my essays "How I Wrote My First Novel" and "How I Wrote My Second Novel."

Q: Who influenced your writing?  What authors are you indebted to?

A: Doris Lessing, Elizabeth Gilbert, Emily Brontë, Isabel Allende, Louise Erdrich, Shakespeare.

Q: At one time, you wrote poetry.  Could you explain how you transitioned to writing fiction?

A: I wrote poems from the time I was a child  through highschool, but it was all hidden.  My friends knew about me writing but they never got to see any of it.  I had two professors in college who encouraged me to write poems. The first taught me the craft of writing poetry.  And the second encouraged me to send the poems out to magazines/literary journals.

I was a bit timid about sending my poems out.  Each poem was like a baby I couldn't bear to part with. And there's a fear of bearing one's soul for all to see; but nervous as I was, I persevered.

One day, I remember looking over my papers. I had compiled my poems into a book (rejected by several publishers, sometimes with a beautiful note from the editor--i.e., These poems are lovely, well-written.  But we're booked for five years.  Maybe you could send them to Publisher X). I counted between  seventy to a hundred--about eighty or so poems.  Those were the good ones. I read them in sequence, and when I finished I felt I'd said everything I wanted to say in poems.  I wanted a larger canvas, so to speak.

I'd already kept my journal for many years.  I also wrote stories, sketches and essays.  My mom pointed out that the poems, though well-crafted, were not commercial.  She said that one always heard of bestselling novels/novelists (think Jackie Collins).  Maybe I should do that. So I decided to put all my energy into fiction writing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Anna Akhmatova discovered a lyre-shaped charm when she was a young child.  As a result,  her nanny predicted that little Anna would grow up to be a poet.  When she decided to be a poet, Akhmatova’s  father, Andrey,  demanded that she choose a different surname so as not to tarnish the Gorenko family name.  Akhmatova herself explains his concern, and her high-born family ancestry:

No one in my large family wrote poetry. But the first Russian woman poet, Anna Bunina, was the aunt of my grandfather Erasm Ivanovich Stogov. The Stogovs were modest landowners in the Mozhaisk region of the Moscow Province. They were moved here after the insurrection during the time of Posadnitsa Marfa. In Novgorod they had been a wealthier and more distinguished family. Khan Akhmat [was] my ancestor. [...]  It was well known that this Akhmat was a descendant of Genghiz Khan. In the eighteenth century, one of the Akhmatov Princesses – Praskovia Yegorvna – married the rich and famous Simbirsk landowner Motovilov. Yegor Motovilov was my great-grandfather; his daughter, Anna Yegorovna, was my grandmother. She died when my mother was nine years old, and I was named in her honour.*

So, for a pen name, she chose the aristocratic name Akhmatova—the name of her  great-grandmother, who had been “one of the Akhmatov  princesses.”  She then ventured into the  life of,  in her father’s words, a  “decadent poetess.”


One spring years ago, I first discovered Akhmatova  when  I saw the  beautiful Cubist painting, “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova,” by Russian artist Natan Altman.  Clothed in a long royal blue dress, her legs crossed, Akhmatova bears her characteristic solemn  expression in the painting.  (She never smiles.)  Her shoulders and arms are enveloped in a shawl the color of mustard; her face, with an “aquiline profile”; her neck and collarbone are pallid, nearly transluscent.  She looks regally  away from the observer, unbowed yet weary.

In the poem “A string of little beads at my neck,” she gives an accurate self-portrait:

A string of little beads at my neck,

In a broad muff  I hide my hands,
The eyes stare vacantly,

They never shed a tear.

And the face appears pale, 
Against the lavender silk,
My straight bangs

Almost reach my eyebrows.

And how dissimilar to flight

Is my halting step,
As if it were a raft beneath my feet,

Not these wooden parquet squares.

And the pale lips are slightly parted,

The breathing laboured and uneven,
And over my heart tremble

The flowers of a non-existent meeting.


A grey-eyed beauty with a wistful solemn expression, Akhmatova was eleven years old when she began writing poetry.  In Anna of All the Russias, biographer Elaine Feinstein states that by age sixteen, a deep melancholy  pervaded Akhmatova’s  personality.  She published her first poem—entitled “On his hand there are many shiny rings”—one year later.   Then, at  age twenty-one, she married Nikolay Gumilyov, a fellow poet she knew  from childhood.   He had loved her with an unwavering love.  Once she’d decided to accept Gumilyov’s marriage offer, she wrote in a letter to a friend, “I believe that it is my fate to be his wife.  Whether or not I love him, I do not know, but it seems to me that I do.”

Eight years later, in 1918, they divorced.  Two lines from her poem, “Departure,” might describe how Akhmatova felt in the months that preceded the divorce:  “I cannot say if it is our love,/Or the day, that is ending.”

In search of love, she wed twice more—to men who did not truly understand or appreciate her.  Or they may have loved her but not in a way she needed.  “He loved three things, alive”  is the first line of one visionary poem that hints at her predicament:

He loved three things, alive:

White peacocks, songs at eve,

And antique maps of America.

Hated when children cried,

And raspberry jam with tea,

And feminine hysteria.

…And he had married me.

Of one lover, she writes,  “He talked of the summer and said,/How absurd—a woman poet!” Nonetheless, she was sought after as a beauty; and so had several relationships.  To a former lover who had recently wed someone else, she wrote:

I won’t beg for your love.

It’s safely laid aside….

I won’t be penning jealous

Letters to your bride.

But be wise, take my advice:

Give her my poems to read,

Give her my photos beside –

Be kind to the newly-wed!


Many of the poems are self-revealing, yet understated.  Akhmatova gives a woman’s perspective in a time of misogyny in Russia.  A wife was basically a commodity: women were often reviled and abused.  Incredibly,  a  Russian proverb was:  “The more you beat your wife, the tastier the soup will be.”

Luckily, Akhmatova did not witness such brutality as a child.  Several poems evoke sentiments from her sheltered childhood.  She was  “the wild girl”  that jumped into the Black Sea with scant hesitation.   The beautiful poem,  At the Edge of the Sea, draws on this magical time in her life.

In  Northern Elegies,  Akhmatova describes her mother, Inna, with tenderness:

She had an uncommon name, white hands
And a kindness that has come down to me:
Though it has been a useless inheritance

In this harsh life of mine.

At the bottom of her well of sorrow is, perhaps, that Akhmatova never actually raised her son, Lev.  At her husband Nikolay’s insistence, Lev grew up with his grandmother and only saw his mother in summer. 

Of  Lev the child—beloved in absentia—she wrote:

I know you won’t be able to

Remember much about me, little one:
I didn’t hold you, or even scold you,

Or take you to Communion.

Sadly, Lev in later years expressed that he did not feel loved.  He wrote, “If I were not her son, but the son of an ordinary woman, I would have been before anything else a blossoming Soviet professor. . . .”  During his lifetime, he was a well-regarded historian of Eurasian subjects, and wrote poetry.  Not surprising, however, his relationship with Akhmatova was  turbulent; and he never  forgave her.


 The early poems are simple, brief, ethereal in nature.  They describe real moments and loves in her life.  I think of an Akhmatova poem, phrase or image long after I’ve read it.  The image—of “raspberry jam with tea” or  “lavender silk”—floats into my consciousness and stays with me. 

The later poems are longer, more complex in imagery and ideas/ideology.  They are the poems of a mature “poetess”; they evince masterful craftsmanship.  Akhmatova wrote some of these later poems in hardship, during a turbulent era in Russia.  In the months before the Bolsheviks came into power, women stood in ‘bread lines’ for hours, daily.  In  Requiem, she states that she  “stood [in line] for three hundred hours”;  and she refers to herself in an ironic situation:

They should have shown you, little teaser,
Little favourite, friend of all, 

Sylvan princess, happy charmer, 
What situation would be yours –

As three-hundredth in the line

You’d stand. . . .

Thus, these later poems transformed Akhmatova into the voice of  “a hundred million people.” 

That said, I ‘enjoy’ the shorter  poems more—mostly because they are subtler, seem more personal and heartfelt, are infused with  genuine emotion.  These shorter poems reflect a “lyrical soul”—as Akhmatova’s friend described her; but they also make one reflect on one’s own life.

Five original volumes of poetry are the core of  Akhmatova’s oeuvre: Evening (1912), Rosary (1914), White Flock (1917), Plantain  (1921), and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922).  Each volume flung out into the world, like a blue frisbee.   For this essay, I read  Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems Including Requiem,  with  poems compiled from each of the Russian poet’s major works; it is brilliantly translated by British scholar A.S. Kline and an excellent introduction to Akhmatova.


In an homage to artist Boris Anrep, the love of her life, Akhmatova laments  aspects of her life and asks her lover to forgive her:

The evening light is broad and yellow

Tender, the April chill.

You are many years late,

Yet I am glad you are here.

Sit down now, close to me,
And look with joyful eyes:

Here it is, the blue notebook,
Filled with my childhood poems.

Forgive me that I lived in sorrow,

Rejoiced too little in the sun.
Forgive, forgive that I mistook

Too many others for you.


--Yolanda  A.  Reid


Feinstein, Elaine.  Anna of All the Russias (2007).  http://www.elainefeinstein.com/Anna-Akhmatova.shtml

*“Biography Of Anna Akhmatova” (article).  http://www.poemsclub.com/biography-of-anna-akhmatova.html#ixzz2cF759Quk

For the  FREE  ebook of  Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems Including Requiem (translated by scholar A.S. Kline), visit http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Russian/Akhmatova.htm  


For more info:



To view the painting “Portrait of Anna Akhmatova” by Natan Altman, visit http://www.auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian/art/altman-akhmatova.html

To view the art Akhmatova inspired, visit http://artoftherussias.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/akhmatova-in-art/


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my favorite books.  I loved the courage Gilbert showed in transforming herself and her life.  Now, she has written a new work--a novel entitled The Signature of All Things--due for an October 2013 release.  Here's an excerpt from her interview with Chantal Pierrat.

Chantal Pierrat: What is it right now that is stoking your passion? What perspective or practice is setting you on fire?

Elizabeth Gilbert: Returning to writing fiction after 13 years away from it. Returning to the rootstock of my whole life as a writer. It’s what I had wanted to be for my entire life, since I can remember, since my particular time immemorial. It’s how I got my start as a writer. My first two books were a short story collection and a novel. Then I took this weird, sharp left turn away from that aspect of my imagination, and very much into the world of the real. For the entire decade of my 30s and the early part of my 40s, I didn’t write a word of fiction. I just left that behind, this dream of my life. It wasn’t a bad idea--Eat Pray Love  came out of it. I moved into journalism, biography, memoir (in that order), and started to feel like I had left behind something really important. I made myself come back to it, even though it was frightening and intimidating. I wasn’t sure if I still even knew how to do it or why you do it. I felt like I had to return or else it was going to be gone forever. So that’s what I’ve spent the last few years doing and what I’m going to spend the next few years doing. It’s such a homecoming. I feel all abloom with excitement.

CP: Do you feel that there’s any real in the unreal? Or vice versa?

EG: I think there’s more real in the unreal than there is in the real. I think the thing that I lost in myself when I stopped writing fiction and the thing that I rediscovered and started mining again is, for lack of a better word, magic. It’s the way you can brush up against the inexplicable and the mystical. I’ve always thought of my writing as a spiritual practice. But I think that fiction is the most supernatural kind of writing that you can do -- or that I can do -- because of the ways that the real and the unreal weave together to create something that feels more true than anything. It feels like a collaboration between yourself and inspiration, a collaboration between the facts upon which your book is based and the lives you invent around those facts. There’s this great kind of spooky dance that happens that I can’t access any other way. I think most of us are given kind of one pathway to that dance, and that’s why I’m a writer -- it’s the only way I can get there. I can’t do it through art, I can’t do it through singing, I can’t do it through mothering, I can’t do it through invention. There are other ways that people participate in that collaboration. This is the only way I can do it. What happens and what you encounter, what you collide with -- it’s so exciting and revealing about how much more interesting and tricky the universe is than we think in our daily lives.

CP: Since you are coming from the world of memoir with your last two books, how are you represented in this new work?

EG: Somebody said once that when you write fiction, you’re writing memoir, and when you’re writing memoir, you’re writing fiction. When you write a novel, there’s a level at which you are much more revealing about who you are because you’re less self-conscious about how you’re presenting yourself. You are accidentally leaving your DNA all over everything in a novel because it’s all coming from you. I had a wonderful conversation with my friend, the novelist Ann Patchett, after she read this book, and she said, “It was so exciting to read that character and see bits of your hair and fingernails growing out of there! I think that what I personally know about you was showing up in this person who you invented. Who you can also embolden to do and be things that you would never do or be.”

It’s funny. So I’m all over this book. It’s about a 19th century botanical exploration. My character, Alma Whittaker, is a botanist who is the daughter of a great botanical entrepreneur, and she’s looking for nothing less than the signature of nature. She’s a real scientist and she’s stubborn about her quest. At the same time, this novel is a love story, and there are great disappointments in the love story. All of women’s stories in the 19th century had either one of two endings: you either had the good Jane Austen marriage at the end and you were happy; or you had the terrible Henry James savage downfall because of your own hubris as a woman, or you’ve made some great error leading you down a path to ruin. One is the story of love that’s successful and the other is the story usually of reckless love that goes terribly wrong that destroys the woman.

But the reality, certainly in my life, is that we all have love stories that go terribly wrong; we all have horribly broken hearts. And somehow we endure. We’re not destroyed by it. We endure and go on to do interesting things and have worthy lives, even though we carry our heartbreaks with us. That’s a kind of personal story of mine that I don’t think I would tell in memoir but I do think I can tell in fiction.
CP: How has disappointment changed you?

EG: It softens me. It makes me be a more sensitive, kinder person. I know what it feels like to be bruised; I know what it feels like to carry things around with you that never totally heal. There’s closure and then there’s stuff that’s kind of like, Well, I guess it’s going to be in the minivan forever. And you carry it with you and you continue on your journey with your minivan full of stuff, which I think most of us do.

All the parts of us that we ever were are always going to be with us. You make space to carry them and you just try not to let them drive. But you can’t chuck them out either. I think I have more compassion than if I had led a life where everything worked out exactly as I had planned or if I had never been wounded or if I had never been betrayed or I had never been harmed. I don’t think I would be as good a person. I’m still aspiring to be a better and better person, but I think those disappointments have made me gentler with other people and their disappointments, the stuff that they have to carry around and endure.

CP: In The Signature of All Things, the character is looking for meaning through plants and nature. Is this a reflection of a connection that you might have?

EG: My mom is a master gardener and I grew up on a farm. I came back to it really late in life and discovered that despite how lazy and inattentive I was as a child, I had managed to accidentally learn quite a bit about gardening. This is a nice metaphor, too, about mothers and daughters -- that when it came time for me to make my own, I was making a completely different garden than the one that my mom has. They don’t look like they came from relatives. Hers is a very productive and pragmatic vegetable garden, and mine is a ridiculous overabundance of useless plants. It doesn’t feed anybody, it doesn’t serve any purpose. I guess it feeds hummingbirds.

It’s definitely a question of following your fascination. When you want to do something creative and you want to do something new, you have to start with the thing that’s making you want to jump up out of bed in the morning, and for me that thing was gardening. I thought, this book is going to have to be about plants, otherwise I’m not going to want to spend three years with it; I’ll resent it if it’s taking me away from the garden.

CP: What do you think the world needs from women right now?

EG: I think the world needs women who stop asking for permission from the principal. Permission to live their lives as they deeply know they often should. I think we still look to authority figures for validation, recognition, permission.

I see women who have this struggle between what they know is right, what they know is necessary, what they know is healthy, what they know is good for them, what they know is good for the work that they need to do, what they know is good for their bodies, what they know is good for their families -- all too often ending that statement with the upturned question mark: “If it’s okay with everyone?” Still asking, still requesting, still filing petitions for somebody to say that it’s all right. I think that, myself included, that has to be dropped before we can take our place in the way that we need to and the world needs us to.

The best and most powerful things that I’ve done in my life were when I decided that I don’t f***** need somebody to tell me that I can do it. To just go and make it myself, do it myself, build it myself, do the project first and not bother along the way to get the requisite paperwork. That requires faith. Primarily it requires a faith in the condition that you are allowed to exist. You are here and you are allowed to be here and therefore you are allowed to make decisions about yourself and the people in your life; rather than sort of backing up and making sure it’s okay with everybody at every turn.

CP: Hallelujah! Do you have a consistent practice or a perspective that helps you through times of contraction?

EG: I do. It all comes down to these two words: “stubborn gladness.” It’s from a poem by my favorite poet, a guy named Jack Gilbert. He’s sort of the poet laureate of my life. He has a poem called “A Brief for the Defense.” In the poem he says, “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Which is not to edit him but I guess that’s how I took him in. He carefully put those words in the order that he wanted them, but somehow in my mind they just go into the furnace and come out like two ingots, sort of melded together, these two words that I keep together. Stubborn gladness.

What I love about the line is that it doesn’t deny the reality of the ruthless furnace of the world. That God wants us to be in joy, God wants us to be happy. Because of this extraordinary consciousness and this great ability for wonder and marvel, and without denying any of the terrors and horrors of the world, we also have an obligation toward joy and toward miracle and excitement. I feel like if I were to get another tattoo, it would probably be those two words. Just stubborn, stubborn, stubborn gladness.


For more info, visit:







Thursday, July 25, 2013

HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET by Sherri L. Smith

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith is, perhaps, the cutest book I’ve ever read.  It’s the charming YA novel about Ana Shen, a smart and sassy young girl of African-American/Chinese-American heritage, upon her graduation from junior-high school.

The book displays fourteen-year old Ana as she copes with  her many issues—her younger  brother, her parents, her nemesis at school.  Her junior-high graduation is a near ‘disaster’.  Though she has no boyfriend, Ana does have a huge crush on a boy in her class.  Thankfully, she has a loyal best friend, Chelsea, to help her navigate life.

The book has a contemporary feel as it depicts, in Ana’s teacher’s words, a “‘marvelously biracial, multicultural’ family,” as they prepare for and participate in a celebration dinner.  Among the likable characters are Ana’s parents, grandparents, and best friend—featuring dialogue that sounds modern and authentic.  For instance, when Ana says:

“We’ve had exactly three family meals with both sides together. . .  We eat out together.  We have to eat out together, or else there’ll be a fight or a disaster, or the end of the world. . . .  This is no longer a dinner, it’s a competition.  That means you’ve made my life hell for the next’—she glances at her watch—four hours.  Four hours!  Holy crap, I’ve gotta go!”

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet  is a YA novel that will resonate with both older and YA readers, alike.  This is a book I’d have loved to have read as a young adult.  I found myself reminiscing  on my own junior-high/high school graduations, and that time in my life.  I think Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet will evoke pleasant memories for other readers as well.  (This is a book both mothers and their daughters will empathize with and enjoy reading.)

I so enjoyed reading this book!  Young adult readers will just think, This book is awesome!

A delightful little book, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet is by an award-winning author.  It’s witty, engaging; its cuteness knows no bounds.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

For more info:


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

VINTAGE CISNEROS by Sandra Cisneros

Vintage Cisneros is the perfect introduction to the legendary writings of Sandra Cisneros.  A graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Cisneros is a poet and novelist.  Vintage Cisneros  is a compendium of her poems, stories and several chapters from her first novel, The House on Mango Street.

This YA novel is the story of Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl growing up in Chicago.  The thirteen-year old’s  tone and language suffuse the book with authentic emotion.   In a series of vignettes, Esperanza assesses her block, her friends, her universe.  Though her name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, she says: “I would like to baptize myself a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.”  Of the world, she says,  “You can never have too much sky.”

Vintage Cisneros  also bears selections from Cisneros’ poetry and stories, such as “Eyes of Zapata”  (a long story in the voice of his beloved that serves as a form of tribute to Emiliano Zapata),  “All parts from Mexico, assembled in the USA or I am born,” “Someday my Prince Popocat├ępetl will come,”  “Love Poem for a non-believer,” “You bring out the Mexican in me,” and others.

The writing is personal, specific, with beautiful imagery and sentiments that are searing in their honesty.  Most times, Vintage Cisneros reads  like a memoir For example, in  “Preface from My Wicked Wicked Ways,”  Cisneros writes,

“What does a woman
willing to invent herself
at twenty-two or twenty-nine
do?  A woman with no who nor how.
And how was I to know what was unwise.

I wanted to be [a] writer.  I wanted to be happy.”

--Yolanda  A.  Reid



Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The most poignant moment in The Cooked Seed is when Anchee asked her lover, Qigu,  “Do you love me?”  They had been in a relationship for several months, but he had never said the words, I love you.  It was not  “the Chinese way,” he said. “You know how I feel about you, . . . and I know how you feel about me.  Isn't that enough?”

They wed, had a child and remained together for six years.  Qigu, an artist, was the grasshopper to Anchee’s worker-ant (although, she also was an artist).

Born into a middle-class family in Shanghai, China, Anchee Min survived a painful and heartbreaking chidhood.  This was during the Cultural Revolution.  Min’s parents  “were teachers, and thus regarded as bourgeois sympathisers.”  They lived in cramped quarters, in which the kitchen doubled as a bathroom, used not only by Min’s family but also by several neighbors.

Anchee as a child subsisted near starvation.  Her mother pawned the family’s clothes and  “the backs of her feet bled” as she walked in the snow. 

Later—once Chairman Mao’s formidable widow, Chiang Ching, lost political clout—Min became a pariah.  “I was considered a ‘cooked seed’—no chance to sprout.”

So Min was determined to emigrate to the US, in order to expand her life opportunities.   She applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was accepted and managed to obtain the necessary visa.

In Chicago, armed with her “English-Chinese dictionary and  English 900 sentences book,”  she struggles to learn English.  Once her college classmate explains the meaning of  “What’s up, dude?” Min switches from the stuffy  “How do you do?” she had learned in language class and which no one used. 

Early on in the process of learning English, Min makes many language mistakes.  Once, she tells Qigu he is “full of booloony” (she means baloney).  “The big moving room—the elevator” fascinates her, but she confuses the word with “refrigerator.”  One of the first phrases she understands fully is from Mr.  Rogers: “The best gift you can offer is your honest self.” 

A happy moment in the book is when Lloyd, her beau and husband-to-be, says he loves her and she says she loves him.

In The Cooked Seed, Min offers us an unflinchingly honest self-portrait.  She does not exclude anything unflattering.  Moreover, the book depicts an extraordinary metamorphosis, from loyal Chinese worker  to an American woman.  The book also depicts Min’s struggles as a single parent, and later, how she and her husband, Lloyd, prepare her daughter for the SAT’s and other college entrance exams.

The Cooked Seed is a compelling portrait of life in contemporary  China and of the US immigrant experience.  It is also the story of a strong pragmatic woman as she perseveres from “Chinese fatalism” and a propensity “to dwell on the literature of misery, exile, imprisonment, and despair” to American optimism, the “tomorrow-is-another-day attitude” of Scarlett O’Hara.

“Truth,” Min writes, “would lead to real beauty.”  In The Cooked Seed, the language is spare, utilitarian, and true.

--Yolanda  A.  Reid

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