Review: Li Cunxin – Mao’s Last Dancer

Mao’s Last Dancer
Li Cunxin

A poor Chinese boy, one of seven brothers, is the favourite of his mother and family. With little food and littler hope for the future, Li is determined to make something different of his life. This chance comes for him when he is selected to become a ballet dancer for Madam Mao. Li’s determination to make his family proud means that he rises through the ranks, and eventually sees outside of China.

298137It’s interesting to see within the head of someone raised during the time of Communist Mao. Such brainwashing seems absurd now, but it happened not that long ago. Goes to show that corrupt politics can have a huge impact with brainwashing, and the people within it don’t even question it. Perhaps that explains some of the religious stuff that people can get away with now…

There’s not actually very much I can tell you about how this novel was written. As a non-native English speaker, Li does an excellent job of communicating. His written English (with considerable editing support I admit), flows more naturally than his spoken word. The ‘episodes’ or ‘chapters’ of Li’s life fitted in well, and I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything important in his life.

I listened to this novel as a talking book. The reader of Mao’s Last Dancer was amazing. His voice was just how I wanted it to be told, soft in the places it needed to be, and louder when it was more important. I felt like I was really experiencing the things that happened. I’ve never tried searching for audiobooks using the reader’s name, not the author’s, but this reader makes me want to do it.

I had the privilege of speaking to Li in person, and hear him give an interview about leadership. Some of the little things he told us about in the interview were covered again in the novel, and it made a huge impact on what came out as the most important point of the narrative. The thing I took out of it was the savour the process, not just the endpoint, and that just because things have always been that way, doesn’t mean they will be that way forever.

Would I have been so interested in the story if I hadn’t met Li? Possibly, but perhaps it never would have gotten off my never-ending reading stack. I’ll give this one 4.5 stars, because it is a brilliant and well-told story, but I wouldn’t re-read it. I really want to watch the movie and see if it is as wonderful as the novel. Inspiring, and you should go read it, but it might not be for everyone.

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