Sunday, April 26, 2009

Book 44: Becoming Madame Mao

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

Something about this novel just didn't quite do it for me. While I liked the idea of seeing the Cultural Revolution through Madame Mao's eyes and basically hearing the story of the famous man's wife, perhaps I should have read up on my Chinese history since I'd forgotten many of the details surrounding it, and her role in particular.

In some ways, I was actually reminded of Anne Boleyn (possibly because the second season of The Tudors is sitting in my living room but I wanted to read rather than start watching it). Like Anne Boleyn, she seduces a powerful man away from his previous wife, but eventually gets caught in political drama that makes her fear for her life. Of course, Madame Mao doesn't get beheaded by her husband though she does have to tolerate a few concubines. In ways, as involved as Madame Mao may have been in the persecutions, and I feel like the novel hinted at it but didn't quite explain everything she was responsible for, it seems like she was also just a pawn being manipulated by more intelligent and powerful men.

I also find it interesting how Madame Mao even came to have power since in the novel she has clearly fallen out of her husband's favor when suddenly, he turns to her and she uses his paranoia to come back into his good graces and actually gain some political power and prominence.

The novel alternates between first and third person narration. While I think this could have succeeded, the author switches voices every few paragraphs, leading to a slight disconnect. I feel like if she'd alternated chapters, or chosen simply one voice, it would have worked better. I understand her reasoning since the third person often added insights and knowledge that the character Madame Mao may not have admitted about herself, but it just didn't quite flow as well for me that way. I think perhaps I would have been better off reading a slightly sympathetic biography than this.

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