Maos Last Dancer

8 August 2016

The 2003 autobiography “Mao’s Last Dancer”, by Li Cunxin, is a book that is open to interpretation. Overall, it is an interesting book that presents many different ideas and themes, including traditional Chinese culture and the comparison between East and West ideology. “Mao’s Last Dancer” tells the tale of Li Cunxin, a Chinese dancer in the Houston Ballet, and his adventures. The book also includes various members of Li’s family, his dance teachers at his ballet academy and the friends he makes as he travels to the U. S. A.

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At the age of 11, Li was taken from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange trip to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect to the United States, getting married to do so, and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet. “Mao’s Last Dancer” is an autobiography in nature, and this means that anyone who can read will enjoy this tale of determination and perseverance.

It is written is such a way that younger readers can enjoy a great tale of a dancer growing up from the forgotten regions of poverty stricken China, and younger readers will particularly enjoy the various fables scattered thorough the story. One of these fables is especially relative to the main story, and this specific one tells the story of a frog at the bottom of a well who hears about a wider, more colourful world outside of the stone walls trapping him in the darkness. The frog dreams of seeing this better world, and he tries and tries to climb up the slippery walls of the wells.

For the more mature readers, “Mao’s Last Dancer” presents many deeper themes, like Communism and poverty, and also presents many comparisons between certain aspects of life, like the differences in culture between the East and West. All in all, this book provides a window of opportunity leading to an entertaining read for all members of the family. “Mao’s Last Dancer” basically only has three main settings. The first part of the book is based around Li’s childhood, being set in his small village in rural China. The second part of the book is about Li’s travelling to Beijing and how he starts and continues to train at a ballet academy. The final part of the book is set in Houston, and follows Li’s professional ballet career. This part also outlines the relationships Li falls into and explains his struggle in defecting to the United States. This book touches upon many themes and ideas, and is particularly good at presenting these themes from the perspective of a person that cannot change them. For instance, Communism as an idea is explored thorough the novel with some detail, and the story helps us to see how helpless the sufferers of the ideology cannot change their struggle.

The writing style and the story itself really puts us into an over the shoulder perspective when reading the text. It makes you feel like you are in a dream watching Li perform his tasks and live out his life. The way it is written does not tell us what Li is like, it lets us make our own judgment of him, letting us decide on our own if he is deserving of the extraordinary feats he accomplished. The links between the different ages of Li are seamless and are barely noticed. Its transitions between the days passed and even the years rolling over seem to go without a hitch.

The story and tale itself has a really smooth, flowing timeline. The first part of the book is interesting, yes, but seems to go nowhere until he reaches his schooling life, which is further along in the part. This shows us that the story is not meant to be fast paced action, but rather a relatively slow tale of change with elements of political drama. The only part of the book that seems to present any action is where he visits the Chinese embassy in the United States and is taken captive for a while, but even then it is not very fast.

To summarise, this story is for people who want to read a slow-paced perseverance story with many emotional and relatable aspects, so not everyone will actively enjoy its text. To conclude, Mao’s Last Dancer” is a complex read. It can be interpreted on many different levels and has many different aspects making up its content. This novel is not for action fans, but some political drama followers might be inclined to take a glance at this book. The main audience however is the lovers of emotional, cultural difference and determination stories, and it really helps us to see where we stand in this world.

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