A Frog Leaves the Well

Reading Mao’s Last Dancer I forgot that I was reading a book and thought that I was sitting across from Li over multiple meals and hearing his life story.  It was redeeming to read about a child growing up under Chairman Mao who thrived as an artist despite the circumstances.  Li’s success powerfully affected the living conditions of his family which got better and better over time.

One of the most compelling parts of Li’s story is the transformation in his thinking.  Reading about reluctant self criticisms and devotion to Mao which included sympathy for the “poor Americans” whose lives were much worse because they did not have the dictator and almost watching his shock and amazement as he visited America and realized that what he had been taught was propaganda was fascinating.  Li’s Dia (father) told him a story growing up about a frog stuck down in a well.  The frog was taunted by the frogs above the ground because their limited well was not the great world and they did not know it.  Even as a child, Li instinctively knew that he was in a well prevented from the world by “the party.”  There is a precious moment near the end of the book, when the Li family reunites and Dia thanks his son for showing him the world outside the well.

Another powerful moment is when the realization dawns on Li that the only thing that separates him from his brothers is opportunity.  Even though they are finally allowed to visit and keep in touch years after his defection their housing, careers, salary, and even number of children was dictated to them.  One of the themes of the book is Li’s divided emotion.  With every achievement and milestone in his life is joy but also the sadness that his family is not there to celebrate it with him and guilt that he has so much while they have so little.

Mao’s Last Dancer is one of the easiest memoirs I have read.  The juxtaposition of peasant life under Mao with the dreams to be the best dancer fascinate the reader.  Li pulls his audience into his life story even describing the food and bathrooms at each stage in his life.  I’ll definitely read it again.

~ by shostagirl on November 15, 2011.

2 Responses to “A Frog Leaves the Well”

  1. WOW! Now this would be an interesting read. You hardly ever get to hear about this side of communism. I mean, often we forget there are people who genuinely loved their dictators. This always fascinated me about Prenzlauerberg in East Berlin. All the people who lived there were really loyal to the Communist party and they were devastated when the wall came down.
    I’m adding this to my goodreads.

  2. […] It was one of the most compelling memoirs I have read so far.  You can read my review of it here.  I haven’t seen the movie yet and honestly am a little afraid to ruin the magic of the […]

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