A striking story of love and betrayal re-creates the terror and animosities that informed the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
Min provides a rare insider’s glimpse into daily life under the worst depredations of the Maoist regime. Her narrator is a schoolgirl named Maple, the daughter of a teacher who is suspected of disloyalty to the Party. On account of her father’s politics, Maple is subjected to daily beatings from the school bullies and makes common cause with Wild Ginger, a half-French classmate who is branded a “foreign spy” and abused even worse than Maple. To prove her loyalty, Wild Ginger denounces her mother (who eventually hangs herself) and becomes the most zealous Maoist in the entire village. When she exposes a ring of gangsters who have taken over the local fish markets, Wild Ginger becomes a national hero and is praised by Mao himself. Her parents are posthumously “rehabilitated” and Wild Ginger is on her way to a promising career with the Party. The first complication arrives, however, when Wild Ginger finds herself drawn to Evergreen, a handsome local boy who is the head of the Red Guards at the local school. Ashamed to find that she is prey to the bourgeois vice of romantic love, Wild Ginger tries to forget Evergreen and put her duties to the Party first. But soon the picture becomes even more complex when Evergreen and Maple fall in love and are engaged to marry. When Evergreen is wrongly denounced as a subversive, both he and Maple are sent to prison, and Evergreen is condemned to death. Can Wild Ginger save him? Does she even want to? In a world where “I Am Missing Chairman Mao” is the top hit on the radio, don’t expect the usual reactions.
Fascinating, moving, and marvelously strange: second-novelist Min (Becoming Madame Mao, 2000; a memoir, Red Azalea, 1994) opens the door to a world that is at once terrible and compelling.