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Wild Ginger (2004)

di Anchee Min

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389449,601 (3.48)21
The beautiful, iron-willed Wild Ginger is only in elementary school when we first meet her, but already she has been singled out by the Red Guards for her "foreign-colored eyes." Her classmate Maple is also a target of persecution. It is through the quieter, more skeptical Maple, a less than ardent Maoist whose father is languishing in prison for a minor crime, that we see this story to its tragic end. The Red Guards have branded Wild Ginger's deceased father a traitor and eventually drive her mother to a gruesome suicide, but she fervently embraces Maoism to save her spirit. She rises quickly through the ranks and is held up as a national model for Maoism. Wild Ginger now has everything, even a young man who vies for her heart. But Mao's prohibition on romantic love places her in an untenable position. Into this sexually charged situation steps Maple, creating an uneasy triangle that Min has portrayed with keen pychological insight and her characteristic gift for lyrical eroticism. In Anchee Min's previous three books she returned again and again to the devastating experience of the Cultural Revolution, which defined her youth. Here, in this slim but powerful novel, she gives us a moving story that goes closer to the core of that experience than anything she has written before, and brilliantly delineates the pychological and sexual perversion of those times. Ultimately, WILD GINGER has the clean lines of a parable, the poignancy of a coming-of-age novel, the sexiness of a French blue movie, and the sadness of a truly tragic love story.… (altro)
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This was so messed up! Honestly, a generation lost, no thanks to Mao and his Army. Ugh! His 'philosophies' and 'army' (aka bullies) leave a distaste in my mouth! He's not so much of a leader than a dictator who crams his ideas down people's throats and has everyone waste their days doing nothing but propaganda stuff and starve.

The author was just that good at stirring up my fury against the early days of communist China...or maybe I am not a fan of communist China to begin with....anyways back to the actual review.

This book certainly makes you think and gives you a slightly different perspective of what it was to grow up during the Cultural Revolution as a teenager, especially from "classes" that weren't favoured by the Red Army.

Wild Ginger and Maple, are two outcasts in school, who are constantly picked on for not being Maoist enough...especially Wild Ginger due to her foreign background. As the two girls grow up, one tries very hard to shed her foreign roots and embrace the Maoist ideas wholeheartedly even though she is probably not that into it and pushed Evergreen and Maple to go along with it.

I didn't connect with any of the characters at all. I know we are suppose to sympathize with them, especially given how tough this time period was for this generation. But there wasn't really anything redeeming about them. Wild Ginger was too headstrong and manipulative into trying to be the model Maoist girl, whereas Maple was too passive and allowed Wild Ginger to keep a hold on her. ( )
  Dream24 | Jan 6, 2016 |
I really liked the epigraph to this novel: "During a certain period of our lives, we possess youth. The rest we spend living in the memories of it."

The story itself was a look at young people in Communist China dealing with Chairman Mao's cultural revolution. This is a sad book. The power of a totalitarian regime to indoctrinate their youth is frightening. Considering that the author lived through this time in China there is probably a fair amount of truth to this. The Red Menace from China and Russia was the boogeyman when I was young. It is no wonder that the American government was so virulently anti-communist. That is my takeaway from this book. Teenage angst and the need to conform and rebel in youth is hard enough without brainwashing to this extreme.

Despite being a short novel the story unfortunately seemed to lose its drive and became repetitive. I feel it also lost energy towards the end and the climax wasn't handled well in my opinion.

Reading this I learned something about some unfortunate years in China's history. 2 1/2 stars ( )
  RBeffa | Feb 4, 2013 |
This book was disappointing; however, it was entertaining enough and short enough that I didn’t feel as though I wasted my time. There were several problems – an undistinguished prose style, characters that were too simplistic, multiple unbelievable plot twists and too much heavy-handed justification of the main character’s actions.

The prose was by no means horrible, and it could be due to a poor translation. There were some awkward parts, but nothing too bad. It was very simple though – this may have been a conscious choice of the author, but I think it would have worked better had the story been told by the narrator when she was a child – instead, it is her remembering the events of her childhood. So the writing wasn't bad, it just didn't really add anything to the book. I'll tolerate nonexistent/melodramatic/somewhat stupid plots if the writing is strong enough, but that isn't the case here.

The narrator becomes friends with a girl named Wild Ginger, who is suspect because of her French father (this takes place during the Cultural Revolution). Later, Wild Ginger becomes a revolutionary heroine and she turns on her former friend. The plot moves along quickly, which does keep you reading because you want to know what happens next, but leaves some things quite undeveloped. Characters drop in when they are needed, then are never heard of again. For example, the incident that canonizes Wild Ginger comes when she defends a poor woman from a group that is cheating her out of her earnings. The woman is described as close to Wild Ginger in a few sentences, then after the incident she never reappears again. Other characters also exist only to fulfill plot functions and therefore come across as stereotypical. One of the men that Wild Ginger exposes is throughout only portrayed as greedy and evil – he was previously the character who destroyed her mother and for a simplistic reason – he was rejected by her in favor of Wild Ginger’s father. The other bad character is Hot Pepper, a schoolyard bully who also slavishly sucks up to Wild Ginger after her fortunes change. Again, the character is just bad and nothing else.

Wild Ginger herself does some things that are clearly unsympathetic, but the author provides overt justification. It was tiring after a while. Initially, she talks about how she rejects her father, but it has already been made clear that she loved him – was just accepting all the propaganda about Western = evil. Some of the worst things that she does are conveniently blamed on other characters, and most of her issues are just due to the repression and her excessive desire to be a true Maoist, Communist etc. The ending also clearly shows that she was good, despite all her actions.

There are some good parts in the book when it doesn’t focus on the plot twists and Wild Ginger justification. The narrator’s father cheerfully buys cheap books – to use as toilet paper, he says – then takes them home to read them. Her mother is shown using a communal dance practice, to which she is quite indifferent, to exchange gossip and recipes – incidents not of massive drama, but just people going about and coping as best they can. ( )
  DieFledermaus | May 4, 2010 |
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During a certain period of our lives, we possess youth. The rest we spend living in the memories of it.
-from the diary of a former Red Guard
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In my memory she has a pair of foreign-colored eyes, the pupils yellow with a hint of green.
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The beautiful, iron-willed Wild Ginger is only in elementary school when we first meet her, but already she has been singled out by the Red Guards for her "foreign-colored eyes." Her classmate Maple is also a target of persecution. It is through the quieter, more skeptical Maple, a less than ardent Maoist whose father is languishing in prison for a minor crime, that we see this story to its tragic end. The Red Guards have branded Wild Ginger's deceased father a traitor and eventually drive her mother to a gruesome suicide, but she fervently embraces Maoism to save her spirit. She rises quickly through the ranks and is held up as a national model for Maoism. Wild Ginger now has everything, even a young man who vies for her heart. But Mao's prohibition on romantic love places her in an untenable position. Into this sexually charged situation steps Maple, creating an uneasy triangle that Min has portrayed with keen pychological insight and her characteristic gift for lyrical eroticism. In Anchee Min's previous three books she returned again and again to the devastating experience of the Cultural Revolution, which defined her youth. Here, in this slim but powerful novel, she gives us a moving story that goes closer to the core of that experience than anything she has written before, and brilliantly delineates the pychological and sexual perversion of those times. Ultimately, WILD GINGER has the clean lines of a parable, the poignancy of a coming-of-age novel, the sexiness of a French blue movie, and the sadness of a truly tragic love story.

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