Mao's Last Dancer

Leah Courtney
Mao's Last Dancer (Movie Tie-In)

In this year of reading memoirs, this was another very good one!  This is the story of Li Cunxin, a boy who grew up a poor peasant in China in the 1960s.  He lives in extreme poverty in a time when Communism is sweeping China and Mao is god.  As an eleven year old boy, he is chosen to participate in Madame Mao's Dance Academy.  Although he knows nothing about ballet, he goes to Bejing carrying all his family's hopes.

After much hardship, Cunxin becomes a great ballet dancer.  He is also a proud communist.  But, when he has the opportunity as a teenager to travel to America with his dancing, he finds that the Western world is not quite the way the propaganda has made it out to be all these years.  Eventually Cunxin chooses to defect to America, so he can practice his ballet in freedom.

Cunxin is happy in America but constantly misses his family back in China and suffers form loneliness and never quite fitting in.  He faces a failed marriage and many other challenges but eventually will see his Chinese family again and will make peace with his former country.

This was a great memoir!  Cunxin, now retired from ballet, is a terrific story-teller.  His story reads like a fascinating fiction tale but has touching moments when he describes his memories of his family and growing up in China.  I was so very impressed with the closeness within his rather large family of seven brothers and the honor in which he held his parents.

My copy of the book had an added section at the back that described Li's life and family up through 2009 and told about the making of the movie that portrays his life.  I immediately put the movie on my netflix queue!

This one was definitely a good read to add to my memoir list for this year!

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

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