Most writers work hard to create dynamic characters caught in page-turning plots and illuminated by realistic details. However, there are some writers whose own biographies rival the drama of their characters' lives. Anchee Min is one such writer.
Born in Shanghai in 1957, Min was a child of the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedung, when Chinese schoolchildren were put through a thorough education in the Communist machine and churned out as indoctrinated Maoists. Min herself was recruited to star in Communist propaganda films, which she denounced after the Cultural Revolution ended and its far-reaching damage was made clear. In Min's latest novel, Wild Ginger, she uses much of her own childhood experience to create the title character.
Wild Ginger is partially French by birth, which makes her an outcast in the Cultural Revolution and at the Maoist school she attends, where uniformity is celebrated and foreignness is punished. She and her friend Maple, whose father is in prison for a minor offense, are regularly beaten by their classmates. After her mother's suicide, Wild Ginger decides to survive by becoming the most ardent Maoist she can be--and she does, rising through the ranks, becoming a leader of the Red Guard, and even meeting the Chairman. Her obsession with Maoism frightens and drives away both Maple and Evergreen, a neighborhood boy deeply in love with Wild Ginger. When Maple and Evergreen become confidants and then lovers, their relationship sparks Wild Ginger's jealousy and propels them all toward the startling and wholly unexpected conclusion.
Wild Ginger's tragedy is compelling, not least because Min offers us glimpses of the psychological stress she endured herself as a child, when survival meant erasing one's identity and dedicating one's life to Mao. Though her writing style is choppy and unadorned, she succeeds in re-creating the paranoia of the Cultural Revolution and its devastating effects on an entire generation through the lives of a handful of intriguing characters.