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Summary and book reviews of Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

Mao's Last Dancer

by Li Cunxin

Mao's Last Dancer
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2004, 444 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2005, 480 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

The true story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy, plucked from his life in rural China, became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. One part Falling Leaves, one part Billy Eliot, this is an unforgettable memoir of hope and courage.



In 1961, three years of Mao's Great Leap Forward--along with three years of poor harvests--had left rural China suffering terribly from disease and deprivation. Li Cunxin, his parents' sixth son, lived in a small house with twenty of his relatives and, along with the rest of his family, subsisted for years on the verge of starvation. But when he was eleven years old, Madame Mao decided to revive the Peking Dance Academy, and sent her men into the countryside searching for children to attend.

Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. One part Falling Leaves, one part Billy Eliot, Mao's Last Dancer is an unforgettable memoir of hope and courage.

Part One
My Childhood

Chapter 1

Home

My parents, as newlyweds, lived with my father's six brothers, their wives, his two sisters and their children, a total of over twenty people crammed into a six-room house. My mother was the youngest daughter-in-law, so her status in the Li family was the lowest. Family hierarchy had to be respected: she would work hard to prove her worth.

Often my mother would not see my father until late in the evenings, because he worked at two jobs, either away in the fields or carting building materials, all day long. Then the family would sit for dinner under the candlelight (there was no electricity in the village then), with men eating at one table, women and children eating at others. My parents hardly set eyes on each other during that first year of marriage. Sometimes, in the dim candlelight, my mother would even mistake one of her brothers-in-law for her own husband.

The women of the house would sew, wash, clean and cook. My mother ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

A wonderful book; a bit sentimental in places but it's Li's story and he's free to tell it how he likes, and he tells it well. If you're a ballet aficionado you'll want to read every page, otherwise you'll probably want to skip over a few of the more detailed descriptions of ballet competitions - which are few in number anyway.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (576 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Despite Li's tendency toward the cloying and sentimental, his story will appeal to an audience beyond Sinophiles and ballet aficionados--it provides a fascinating glimpse of the history of Chinese-U.S. relations and the dissolution of the Communist ideal in the life of one fortunate individual.

Library Journal - Carol J. Binkowski

The portions dealing with his childhood and loving family in Quingdao are especially poignant, and the work as a whole unfolds with honesty, humor, and a quiet dignity. This book has wide appeal, for it concerns not only a dancer's coming of age in a turbulent time but also individual strength, self-discovery, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Kirkus Reviews

Li's well-paced account of the ensuing cloak-and-dagger episodes that led to his defection to the West adds suspense to a tale already full of adventures, but there are no conventional bad guys to be found in it. Indeed, he writes with fine compassion for the Chinese consul who attempts to dissuade him from becoming an outcast; unlike me, he had to go back and would probably never manage to get out again. Nicely written and humane for anyone interested in modern Chinese history or for fans of dance.

Reader Reviews
Emily

Mao's Last Dancer
I loved this book! I had to read and review it as my course of prejudice and persecution and as soon as I finished it I bought my own copy :) Very inspirational and a fantastic read.

GG

Mao's Last Dancer
Mao's Last Dancer is a fantastic book. It is about a young boy who lives in a family with 6 brothers, in poverty in China, and Cunxin, his name, is chosen, when he is 11, to be part of the Beijing Dance Academy. He takes this chance, and studies ...   Read More

Elmo

Mao's Last Dancer
Cool book! Everyone should read it! OR ELSE!!

Kathryn

Great Book Club Selection
The book was a fascinating read! What a captivating true story about the amazing talent, strength and courage of a young boy from China. The book discussion group I lead will enjoy it and the topic will generate good discussion. What a great book ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

At the age of 34 Li realized his career as a dancer would soon be over, so he began to study at the Australian Securities Institute (in between rehearsals and performances) qualifying as a stockbroker two years later.  Today he lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and three children and works as a stockbroker.  He also finds time to work with many charities, including UNICEF.

He is an avid supporter of The Cochlear Research Institute in Australia which conducts ongoing research and provides support to those who cannot afford the implant.  The cause is close to his ...

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