Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Mao's Last Dancer
This is the remarkable autobigraphy of Li Cunxin, a Chinese boy born into extreme poverty, who goes on to become an internationally renowned ballet dancer. The stories of his early life portray the harsh conditions, but strong family ties of an extended family living in a Chinese commune. At eleven, Li Cunxin is chosen to attend a Communist dance academy in Beijing, merely because of his flexibility, which is only a tad more impressive than his peers. We are humbled by the delight he shows at experiencing new things at the academy - his first time in a hot shower, fresh fruit twice a week, watching movies and documentaries. His eyes are opened to new possibilities.
Li has no natural talent for ballet but, through years of relentless training, he forces himself to become good, and eventually brilliant. We see him suffer through the physical pain of training, the achievements, the disappointments, romances, friendships, and family loyalty. We see a man who, when surrounded by the decadence of American life during a ballet tour, realises the limitations of Mao's Communist China, and strives to escape it.
This is a beautiful book to read; inspiring and uplifting, it reminds us to never forget where we started.