the alley ministry canal by mary roache. how eating works. the american way of eating. i'm looking forward to reading about a different part of the culinary experience. and the last book on my list, thinking in numbers. life, love, meaning and math. and this book takes 21 essays looking at every day things in life and how math influences them. there are a bunch of numbers. they're looking for something putting this and math together. >> let us know what you're reading this summer. tweet as you at booktv. post it on our facebook page or send us an e-mail at email@example.com. now on "book tv," anchee min talks about the follow-up to her best-selling memoir, red azalea. in the her new book "the cooked seed." she discusses what her life is like sinceunited states from a chin.
this is from "the chicago tribune" lit fest. [applause] >> thank you for this great turnout. i'm really excited to be here today with anchee min. i read her first book, "red azalea" back in 1995, shortly after it came out. i assume some of you read it. it was herher first installment about growing up during the cultural revolution in china. it took her up until approximately the time she landed -- can you not hear me? can somebody regulate this microphone for us please? how about this? can you hear me now? excellent. her second book, the book we'll focus on today, "cooked seed," starts when she lands at o'hare
in 1984, that right? before we ask questions, in case you think success changed anchee min i would like to point out she is traveling with a backpack. she is just lugging everything that she has around. i asked her when we met down in the greenroom earlier today. i said is that everything you have? she said yes. we learned growing up in mao's china to pack quickly and to pack everything that we have. snoop because we were told that the americans were in vietnam. they're going to take over china, invade china. we must learn to defend ourselves. anytime. >> so some things never change however americanized you may be. i would like to have you start by just telling us in the way that your book starts about your arrival in chicago. who were you? what was that like to land in
this cold, strange place? >> my life ended in china. it's a long story. to make it short, i was in the labor camp. it is nothing unusual. half of china, if you know anything about china, history, modern history, cultural revolution, mao used the red guard to help him get rid of his political rifles. once this is done, the use was, getting settled in the city and mao need to get rid of them. and so he says, that university, the best one, is in the countryside. you go and study from peasants. so half of china's youth was sent there, ordered there. i was one of them. after a few years in the labor camp and we're getting disillusioned and, my labor camps in the east china sea.
and labor camps there, about 100,000 youth aged from, 17 to 25. that makes the book "red azalea" how we were on contained by one slogan, kill a hand to shock the monkeys. that is how we were kept a lot. to speed up "red azalea," this point late 1975, early 1976, we did not know mao was dieing and madam mao was preparing herself to take over the china to be the next ruler of china and she needs to make a, sort of like a campaign movie to pave the way. and she needs this face and her ideal woman to be on the screen. she looked everywhere. sent talent scouts. i was picked, from the cotton fields. and shipped, with tractor and a
trucks back to shank eye to be -- shanghai to be screen tested. i personally had no say in it. because, i was a, like everybody else in china bought on the communism machine. because i had the correct, the right face that madam mao needed to, disappointing, isn't it? [laughter] >> you don't like hearing the term you were recruited. >> correct. >> to do these films. >> correct. >> what is your objection to the word recruited? that is in your book, right? >> i had no talent in acting. i found, after, i saw all these beautiful women of my own age and some then no how to act and they were eliminated because they, somebody who knows acting has some cultural background in the family. so that is considered politically not reliable. madam mao was looking for a
piece of white paper. so i was taught how to perform in front of camera by proletariat style. >> can you give us a little rendition? >> teach me how to drink water with correct face. drink the water. so i was given a cup and you start drinking water. ready, set, action and i would start to drink and instructor says, stop. your little pinky is bourgeoisie. much the correct way to drink the water, wipe the mouth with both my sleeves. >> with lipstick. >> yeah. anyway i was picked and i just remember, i couldn't perform. there was no, oh, all i could think i did not want to go back to labor camp because i had a back injury. and, i am must succeed.
that kind of shows. the later on the footage was sent to madam mao, her office says it was awful and we were going to beijing to watch madam mao's favorite movies and learn technique and not be poisoned by comments. we had a study section and went through all that. at the moment we saw all the two movies in her private film room. we all got poisoned mentally. one was, "jane ayre." because madam mao sought herself as jane ayre. mao was 20 years old. mr. rochester has a mad woman in the back. mao has second wife was mad woman so everything matches. the second movie was the "sound of music." madam mao had to take care of
mao's kid. >> same stories influenced american girl of this age. >> later on we becoming mad doom mao. she was a -- madam mao, she was evil, responsible for murdering so many chinese people but the in the meantime her fantasy anyway, september 9th, 1976 mao died. october 8th, madam mao was overthroned and two months later i was denounced. next eight years i was punished for, guilty by association. and by the time i felt i had no way out, i was put it that way. if i had remained in china i would be dead today. >> so at what point did you determine you wanted to come to the united states? a nation that you had grown up learning to hate and fear. the. >> i was coughing blood.
i had shadows on moye lung. shadows on my liver and pass out and was ordered to work in tibet. and i saw like i was going, my life was ending. it was then i, my old friend, she was in china. she was told not to be my friend. and then she went to america. so we were best friends. she was going up to become a superstar of china. i was going down the sewage. after she arrived in america, was in a movie called the last emperor and she felt safe enough to contact me. so she wrote a letter and i learned her living in america and i was surprised she was not treated like a princess in china. i work like every chinese student. and i, in america you have to work for your tuition. so a light bulb went off.
and i said, could i be one of those students? and i don't speak english but i would be willing to work hard. i'm from labor camp. and she apply everywhere in the united states to help me but nobody would accept me. then she says, she says, thank you, can you, do you have any talent? and i said i grow up painting mao murals, public murals. so at that time lucky enough shanghai had a exhibition called french impressionism. i went there and i thought if i couldn't copy michelangelo i can copy vincent van gogh. i come back and painted and my mother said she saw with these paintings, i applied to school of artists in chicago. and they thought i had potential and then --
>> you basically lied about your english, right? or misrepresented. >> well, i couldn't fill out the application form. first my name and i didn't have english name. i, i thought neighborhood, a wise man, he said you should name yourself american name angel. so i printed out angel. and many years later when my daughter was 11 years old i gave her the application form as, don't ever forget where your mom's come from. and i come and my daughter look at the name of anchee. angel, she says, mom, that is not angel. that is angle. [laughter] next line was sex. i consult my chinese english dictionary, 1970 version. there is no explanation on sex. so i did not know how to fill
out male or female. i didn't know which one to circle. the rest, i just was impossible to go on. i took it to a friend who helped me fill out the form and by the learning english language skill there was option, poor, average, good, excellent. of course excellent. so with that i came to america and i got stopped right at custom. >> at o'hare? >> at transitions in seattle before coming to o'hare, for deportation. >> let's fast forward a little bit. you get to chicago. you get to the school of the art institute. your english isn't good enough. you have to take english classes but eventually you begin to establish yourself. tell us about your early life in chicago, where you lived. what you had to struggle with. >> i lived everywhere. i lived somewhere downtown. first, after i was for
deportation and i, i broke down and told the translator that my feet are in america. and please, i beg you for a chance. i was not happy there in china. i didn't have the fortune to die in china. he, the translator went back with immigration officer and they discover among my papers there is clause, says if upon arrival, if student english is not sufficient i will sent to illinois campus for intensive language for six months. within six months i have to, to master english and make it back to the art institute that gave me the i-20. if not the school is responsible for reporting my situation for immigration and then for me deportation. i bet you learn chinese in six months if you're in my shoes, so desperate. [laughing] anyway i learned english by
watching "sesame street" and by radio, public radio and newspaper, and, it's just everything. the most difficult thing i have to pretend all these years that i was doing well, making it in america because i have burden to rescue my family in china. yesterday i was passing the chicago, the downtown post office. i remember my first photo i was taking and i asked a strangerrings, can you take a picture of me under the flag. he said, why do you want the flag? we have a lot of beautiful buildings in chicago? i want to be with the american flag. >> your life in chicago when you first got here was very difficult. you had a lot of difficult jobs that didn't pay you very much. >> five jobs. but i have a different mind set. i thought i was giving right to life. it was up to me. for the first time, so i lived
in, to answer your question, wicker park and then logan squire, irving park and i'm familiar with train because i had a job as delivery person downtown. walk everywhere and knocked on every chinese restaurant, the door in downtown chicago where my legs can carry me. downtown south, outside of chinatown like wallace and 26th. then on who have stead and bridgeport. so my happiest place was 411 south houston. i had this little storage room. first time in my life i had personal space. the bad thing was, the ceiling was, the wall was not closed and the neighbor was a retarded man. if he had diarrhea in the middle of the night the stink would come through the room. i had no window. i was happy. >> when you complained to the
owner he said, that's why it is cheap? >> that's right. >> it a storage space. >> my health broke down. i would pass out and, sent to st. joseph's hospital. doctor told me, do you have any anybody to take you there? i said no. i can walk there. i take the train. he said no, you collapse anytime. so he reported, this hospital probably thinking i have some sort of disease. so the moment he dropped me at the hospital and a tall man came and escort me in isolation room. they put me in this white tube. a lot of tests. because i was coughing blood and everything. they found nothing was wrong. it was just, it was depression. so they sent me to depression to see psychiatrist at the school in the art institute. and i saw, i wouldn't go, i think it's a got opportunity to learn english.
[laughing] and so it was a business disappointing because psychologist is not human or talk to me. she would not fix my english. >> did chinese people at that point see psychiatrists? was the idea of psychiatry new to you? >> right. i never heard of. i saw how can a person be depressed when she is not feeling depressed? >> so, i mean a lot of what you're talking about are, are events you write about in this book. two thirds of the book is your life in the chicago before you gained all the success, before you moved to california. talking on the phone the other day you talked about how difficult it was to write this second portion of your memoir. that you embarked right on it after "red a veil -- azalea" you were a hot commodity and it didn't work. talk about the difficulties of telling this part of your life story.
>> well, after 20 years of making it, living as a author and being on best selling list and, getting to set right next to j.k. rowling in british book awards, i as a author i think i start to realize the asset of my life, i can make it as a book. just how i approach it. by now i know the right way to write this book. the book ought to be written but the point is do i have the courage? do i, so my daughter said, mom, if you want to leave me anything, i want you to leave me your story but not the sugar-coated or airbrushed version. and that was the key. i found a lot of, i read a lot of i immigrant stories told by second generation about their mothers and i found a lot of
things mothers left out. i know exactly why. so these are the things that i wrote. >> things mothers left out because they didn't want their children to know these things? >> uh-huh. the dark side. >> can you talk a little bit about the dark side that you had to plunge into in order to tell a true story? >> for example, the lack of money and the loneliness. lack of money that drove me to live in the cheapest place in chicago and put myself, subject myself to the vulnerable situation where i, i was raped. and the other day i was, i'm on a book tour and i was in san diego and there's a chinese woman stood up in the crowd and she says, same thing happened to me exactly. it is mirror image. i was raped and i did not report. and i felt the same thing.
people would not do in normal situation. when they're in despair, they have crushing loneliness, this helpless, helplessness and hopelessness just drove people to madness. and the rape and pregnancy and struggling. the things a mom does happen to i am my grant. on the other hand i had problem with my siblings and my family. why do you have to reveal this to the world? >> they say this after the book came out and they knew you revealed it? >> i was telling them, i am, i am not going to sugar coat. i might say something that would have negative effect on my family. i don't feel i owe my life as american. i see that, i owe that to america and owe that to my daughter. >> tell an honest story? >> right.
i love america and chicago so much. and i think, it's, this is it's the right thing to do. also another thing was about this, talk about my christmas and, thanksgiving for three years. i never, i didn't have the money and then, mostly, was, afraid i might not get it back if i ever visit my home. i was feeling alone here by myself. i could go to friend in the chinese community but i would never learn english the way i do now. i must deny myself that part. so for my christmas, thanksgiving, i was alone and valentine's night. my gift it myself was this pornography tape, so i have this relationship with tape, for some
years. so that's part of, it was by accident i found the shop. >> same tape over and over, right? >> it is called, it is called, sex education. and eventually the store owner says, he says, why do you, why do you buy it because i will sell it to you for $25 you can have it. you're only ones renting it anyway. so i bargain it down to $20. i thought this would be my companion for the rest of my life. >> does english come to you naturally now or is it still difficult? >> still difficult. my daughter come up to my cabin and she, she would peek at, you know teenagers. she would look in and three
weeks come back and says, on same sentence, same page? i would rather go to medical school. >> so you were talking about when you write, you write in chinese. >> i compose in chinese, plot and details everywhere. on my wall, notes and mirrors. my husband sees it everywhere. i just step in this ocean of notes. all in chinese. when i write, execute it in englishes. >> one of the things you mentioned toward the end of the book to be an immigrant is to leave the people love behind. >> uh-huh. >> you left your family. >> uh-huh. >> your mother died. >> uh-huh. >> that is, this happens late in your book but it's actually very emotional thing, that your mother dies and she is so far away. >> yeah. >> and what did that change for
you mentally? >> i think she became part of the driving force that i wrote this book. i never realized that my relationship with my daughter and then until my mother passed away i feel all these 10 years, 20 years as immigrant i couldn't, china is so far away. i was not able to attend her illness. later on when i became wealthy, and enough to visit her and she was already in her alzheimer's and i couldn't even get there when she was dieing. so my father called, i think every immigrant fear that midnight, early morning, 4:00 call. you know something's not right. my father calling, making this fake voice, your mother is, in permanent sleep. and i say god, why can't you say
she is dead? everything is in permanent sleep. i think it is just clicked and it changed me. and i felt my relationship, with my daughter and it's a difficult one because she, she would, at the beginning she would not understand me. she was born in chicago. and a child of immigrants. new immigrants. she had to help. i mean i wanted to take her to disneyland for her birthday but i, took her to home depot. her gift was a lesson on how to use a power saw, and a book called, plumbing 1-2-3. that was her life until she became a teen and she broke down, rebelled. mom, i don't want to talk about it. i say, okay. i will talk to you about milking the system. because i know in my philosophy,
making a american dream by hard work is backfiring. oy. my daughter see the opposite. she came to the conclusion, mom, it is not the end of the world being poor, okay? and i just want, i see that jamaica's kids are having, we're serving, they're having the american dream that you come to america for. and her kids are happy and they have their own rooms. they have a tv. game. skating board. they have stuffed animals. and i want what they have. i don't want to live this life that, working with you and no weekends. no summer. just, carrying concrete bags in and out. helping you hold the drywall and the, and mixing cement while you do the tile an working the switch. when i come home, even a bottle of shampoo can not get rid of
the stink in my hair. and i just, i don't think i'm asking too much. so she broke down crying. and that was my tough time. tough moments. >> home depot figures fairly regularly in your book. >> we almost lived there. i lived there. >> just learning to repair things, take care of things. do just basic work, is a real theme of this book and then the conflict that you're describing here between the life that you led, the skills that you were forced to learn, and the life of your daughter. the lives of the far more privileged children of most americans now. i mean that continues to be a conflict for you. some reviewer described you as the original tiger mother. >> well, i used to ask my daughter, tell you, lloyd has been. he is the tiger dad. because i --
>> vietnam vet. >> vietnam vet, u.s. marine and english teacher 30 years. he tells my daughter, you tell your mother that she is immigrant. she has no idea what american school wants and, you can away with it. you try me. don'tdon't worry about me going crazy because i'm already there. [laughter] so i think of that. he is a tiger father. for me i think, my thinking that, okay, home depot, she feels deprived but in the meantime subconsciously i feel this is what she needs. i do see americans, her friend, my daughter's friends, moms, calling me dysfunctional. and i think, don't call me dysfunctional. i don't see anything wrong to prepare my -- i see her, if i am ever tiger mother, i'm tiger
mother on one point but i will not let you get away with being narcissistic and feeling sorry for yourself because going to help your mommy pay back america. i would be dead in china and would never give opportunity, america give me the opportunity i give to you. i mean she is at stanford right now. she would never get that chance being nobody's daughter and you have to pay back, i could see her being helpful like with her skills, building house. and plumbing and she can go serve where people needed her. so that was i think my dream, if just a little bit imposing i accept that. i admit, yes. >> you mentioned on the phone the other day that you go back to china. regularly.
and that you're worried this generation of chinese kid is going in the direction of the privileged, spoiled american. >> i went to china and my friends their children there, whatever celebration, the priority, the highest place is mcdonald's and kentucky fried chicken. that is where they go to celebrate. they don't want to go to chinese restaurant. it is pizza place. it is everything america. kids are asking them for money to go to america. right now china just spend a fortune, sadly, fortune to send their kid to america for school. it is the number one choice for family to invest in their children's education. >> there was a report that came out just this week about the increasing distrust between americans and chinese.
that just in the past couple of years that on both sides of that people are for mistrustful. do you perceive that, americans are becoming more distrustful of chinese? chinese are becoming more distrustful of americans? >> i'm not surprised. i look at my daughter's textbooks. china is not taught the way we are. china is our partner and our rival and we make no point of teaching our children about china? that doesn't make any sense to me. >> what do you think americans don't understand about china and the chinese that it is really important that we do understand? >> if you see the, i think it's, americans see china to me like black and white, when 80% of china is gray. so that is what my book that is
why i go, china wants to make america understand china. but in the meantime china is unwilling to reveal the dark side. and chinese people telling my family telling me to hide it. and chinese people not write the way i do. i would not write the way i do if i'm not americanized. that leaves is message, china presents a image that looks so fake. america i know, honesty, your flaws, it's not necessarily. it is to your disadvantage. because americans understand that humans are flawed and they think that is the great -- you look at your scarlet o'hara in "gone with the wind." the heros, herro inches. i think that is part of the
things that the thing that chinese don't understand about america. they think america also don't understand the chinese. not being able to have access to chinese literature. chinese best-selling literature could never make it into the american mainstream market. not a one. >> why not? >> because china is, the authors, i think the censorship, even in my memoir, i think i automatically come, how many times you see in a memoir the protagonist, the self, the author, project themselves as flawed, a villain and greed? so part of my chicago story is to show that. >> so are you saying in chinese literature the protagonist would never be flawed? >> it is automatic not to the depths, flawed is harmless way,
yes. because you don't exam yourself and dissect yourself, do autopsy on my mistake as honestly as american would do. for example a lot of things i got scammed in chicago when i was a new immigrant. i was part of the fault. i was greedy. i was, because money. i need the money. so it's, like a fly would never sit on a egg that is not cracked or stink. >> through your whole life, through all of your work, a striving, a constant striving. to somehow be more, not exactly have more but to be secure. a striving towards a certain security. so now you live in beautiful northern california.
you have a solid, second marriage. your daughter, is at stanford. what do you strife for now? >> try to feel secure because i'm deeply insecure with my writings because i feel kind of retarded. lack of talent. i think everything i do, you see, that my talent is in the knowledge that i lack of talent. so i achieve because i know the bar is there. and how hard i want to jump. i want to get over that bar. i know if i make an effort i will be able to but, i am not equipped. i'm not born with that talent. so i'm going back to chinese every day, i read chinese. a book a day, reading in chinese. in my best days writing english i actually feel like i was writing chinese. because see americans in the main street book market,
commercial book market, i want to entertain but i also want to give you solid knowledge about china because i feel like, it is, china has been misrepresented and misread. i think it is ridiculous for americans to get the wrong message, the wrong understanding about china and i know i'm given blessed with liberty i could juice up my stories, especially historical fictions. i'm entitled to do that but do i want to throw one more, one more rock into the well where china is already, at the bottom, to mislead american public further? so i choose not to. if my book doesn't sell, if it doesn't read, give you the satisfaction totally, and i think it's my choice. and my, in my books for example, struggle becoming madam mao. nobody wanted it, the pub libber for "red azalea" they did not
think american reading public would embrace this story, the sad story. that madam mao was on trial, sentenced to death after 38 years of marriage and considered deem monday and mao was considered george washington of china. and they condensed the video of the tv into like a few seconds where she was given, basically portrayal of herself and shouted in chinese. she says -- [speaking chinese] i thought that's a perfect self-portrait. the translation, i'm mao's dog. mao asked me to buy that bit. that was precisely her role. because after mao become emperor of new emperor of china and she became the backyard concubine. want to fight her way back to mao's arms, she did everything that would please the man. that was her life. i thought it was a beautiful
story. of course in the end in 1990 when she hang herself in the jail. using socks. she tied all the socks together and there is nothing to hide or tie. she tied it to a bed frame and kind of roll herself over. what kind of determination to die to honor, i was wouldn't last a minute. her thoughts were with mao or with her long life or what was it? so the book is written and nobody wanted. then my current editor, he has the guts to take it because at the time houghton must have minute was making money with "lord of the rings." they thought they could invest in literary work, take a chance on me. it was best circle, because the
paper, this is chinese history. and also my other books, i'm with publisher of "harry potter." i think they took a chance on me because they had money with "harry potter." my books are all like edge and chances. and i really appreciate the american critics. the quality of their interview. people they send to me. so have you. my first experience, for example, with madam mao, this was sent to me and he asked me the first question, open his mouth, he said i would like to discuss with you on the topics writers pen name, three villages who instigated the cultural revolution. and i go, where did you go to school? he says columbia. i said what was your major? he said. , cultural revolution.
in the right hand. >> we have four minutes here to take a couple questions from the audience. got microphones right there in the middle of the aisle. >> it's a pleasure and honor to meet you. i'm a native of chicago. your story is very moving. my first view into china was the famous fictional account, the good earth, pearl buck about an american in china. she presents two views of china. she was amazed how exotic it is but characterized it, the protagonist, the laborer and how harsh it was, did you ever read that and what was your reaction to it? >> i was brought to denounce pearl buck in 1972. it was right before nixon's
visit because we were, the children. i remember i was welcoming nixon. i was giving him two red flowers and welcome, mr. president. when the nixon's car passes i was at the corner of the boulevard and the road and first of all came to my mind, do i shoot him? this man is so daring that comes to china. because we wanted to, pearl buck, who i did not show. she was scheduled to come with nixon but at last minute she was refused a visa by madam mao to come to china. before that they used to pave the way to reject pearl buck in china and denounce her. i never know this name. pearl buck, what did she wrote? she is giving, she insulted chinese peasants. so i was not able to get any pock which is copy. i remember my denunciation of the author for insulting chinese
peasants. it wasn't until the "red azalea" book tour from the way back from los angeles i read pearl buck, "the good either." i have never seen any author including my favorite chinese auditors portray the chinese peasants with such affection and the, accuracy. the life that i think she, she is the only one. i know she had a debate with a chinese professor. mr. khan in "new york times" after she got the nobel prize. and the debate was, mr. khan was saying, why can pearl buck portray chinese, elite chinese, 5%, best of chinese? why can't she choose the ugly side? pearl buck, i so glad you point that out. i'm interested in the 95% of the chinese population.
i'm having same thing. chinese people tell you. are you mao's daughter? you're not mao's daughter to write a memoir. you're so plain and so average. i give them pearl buck's answer. i feel as average as 95% of the population. thank you. [applause] >> and we are out of time. i really enjoyed this book. we'll really out of time. >> i have a question. i'm chinese and, i come here about 15 years. and, just, i, i was working for the newspaper before, and then, just two years ago i change another job working for american company. and just two days ago my american coworker bought this book for me because he want to
try to encourage me for the english. and i'm really honored to be here. so my question is, english is still struggling for me. how did you practice your english? what makes you more encouragement to learning english, to survive? >> you have to be desperate. you're already reading america. english is much easier than chinese. [laughter] >> thank you. because i working, for here 12 years. all the chinese community. always seem, because i'm working for chinese newspaper. as a report too. >> well, i think the most difficult thing for you will be try to stay away from the chinese community. that is why i deny myself for some years. because i know if i didn't speak english i would never be