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Author Anchee Min to read at Prairie Lights

BY REBECCA KOONS | APRIL 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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Anchee Min, a writer from Shanghai, uses the history of the Communist China she grew up in as the starting point in all seven of her books, the latest of which is a work of historical fiction titled Pearl of China. These books are highly reflective of her experience prior to moving to Chicago in 1984.

Min will read selections from Pearl of China at 5 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Having come to America speaking no English, the mission to learn the language was an intensive one that allowed Min to discover her passion for writing.

“My teacher said I was a lousy writer but had wonderful material,” she said. “The teacher gave me his book, I read it and thought, ‘I can do that.’ ”

Much of the writing that influenced and inspired Min includes Chinese literature, poetry, verse, and opera because of its compressed structure and emotional intensity. Her exposure to classic and modern literature has also left its mark, particularly the writers Charlotte Brontë and Frank McCourt.

Pearl of China tells the story of two girls plagued by seemingly unceasing turmoil as well as heritage. Though often disconnected after their youth, Willow Yee and Pearl manage to maintain a strikingly genuine friendship.

The character Pearl is based on the life of Nobel-Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, a daughter of Christian missionaries who spent a great deal of her life living in China. When Min was a girl in China, the Chinese were not allowed to read Buck’s works, and Min, like many other Chinese, was ordered to denounce the author as an American imperialist.

It is the fiercely human nature of Pearl of China that Min believes readers will connect with the most. Because the role of friendship is so prevalent throughout the novel and is such a universal theme, she said, this paired with the hardship the two young protagonists face are bound to strike a chord with many.

“To what degree I don’t know, but I think in a way, everyone can relate to what Pearl and Willow had,” she said. “I do know that Chinese audiences will relate to it because of the novel’s history.”

Equally as intense as the characters and plots of her books is the process which Min undergoes during the creative stages. The greatest ease she finds in her writing is the inspiration for characters, which is generally dictated by her life or the lives of others. Despite feeling she is more at liberty now than ever to write what she wants, fleshing out the right words can be a painstaking practice.

“I am getting bolder, freer, and in the meantime I feel like I’m not good enough,” Min said. “I may work on a sentence for three weeks, then toss it away because I’m not happy.”


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