Following Perdido Street Station, I went on to read a smaller book called Wild Ginger by Anchee Min. A completely different genre than my previous read, Wild Ginger is the story of a girl growing up in the 60s and 70s during the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China.
This story draws on Min’s experiences growing up in China. She was born in 1957 which makes her a contemporary of her novel’s protagonists. In 1969, Wild Ginger starts out as a 14-year-old who has had many confrontations and beatings due to the fact that she has yellow-green eyes. She has foreign (bourgeois) blood and due to her family background she has been labeled the child of enemies of the state.
Told from the point of view of Maple, her only friend at school (who shares the bourgeois stigma by being the child of 3 generations of school teachers instead of peasants), we see how the Cultural Revolution and Maoism sweeps through China, affecting Wild Ginger in contrary ways. We also see the struggle of achieving impossible ideals at the cost of one’s humanity. What happens when idealism is pitted against love (for a friend, for a man, for one’s parents) and how a person with bad intentions can use and retool blind devotion to a cause for personal gain?
I was particularly interested in this book because I took an anthropology class in college called “Chinese Family, Marriage and Kinship” that covered Chinese family structure and customs from Imperial China through to the present. During this class we read about The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and the rise and fall of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s-1970s.
Wild Ginger was a very quick read, but I thought what was thought provoking was that while this is a novel and is fiction, I’m sure stories such as this one was true and possibly common place during this turbulent time in China. I think I’m much more interested now in reading Min’s memoir Red Azalea.