Red Azalea is like a cast iron stove. The inside smolders and flashes with dazzling gold and crimson and white. It’s well contained in the clean lines and uncompromising metal of Min’s prose, but heat emanates from every word.
Min’s memoir of growing up in communist China under the regime of Chairman Mao bears witness to her adaptability and powerful survival instincts. The story encompasses her poor urban childhood, her grueling service on a work farm/young adult indoctrination camp, and her struggle to earn a comparably comfortable position as an actress in propaganda films. Min describes her trials in an understated manner that manages to convey the toll they took on her, but also impresses on the reader how normalized such suffering was for everyone she had ever known.
Red Azalea is a good read, but a grim one. Min finds scraps of love throughout her story, mainly through a fraught, desperate, and illegal affair with Yan, her farm comrade. Min’s persistence and capacity for hard work is inspiring, even as she is forced to adopt a dispassionate and cynical attitude towards other people in a politically perilous climate. Most of all, I think it’s worthwhile to read a well-written firsthand account of what one woman experienced during such an important historical period.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.