Anchee Min's Passionate World
By Annie Wang
It was in Pasadena's Holiday Inn. We had lunch together, Anchee, her lovely seven-year-old daughter, Peter and me. From ten a.m. to four p.m.
It just seemed that there was so much in Anchee's life that I wanted to explore. As we talked, her daughter was doing sketches for everyone. It was not like an interview, but rather, an informal chat. Anchee and I both liked each other from the very beginning.
Anchee is a tall, beautiful woman. "The proletarian type of beauty (her words)", strong and healthy. No trace of Lin Daiyu's vulnerability. Her eyes are glittering flames. A single mother, a bestseller writer, a musician, a painter, a breadwinner, Anchee plays different roles in life. She is independent and she is happy.
Her first autobiographical novel Red Azalea was New York Times' bestseller of 1995 and the book has sold its rights in 20 countries. Hollywood bought its movie rights. Her second book Katherine, a novel based on an American ESL teacher's life in China, was sold widely. Her new book Becoming Madam Mao sold to Little Brown with $150,000 advance against royalty.
The following is the excerpt of the interview.
Annie: Anchee, what do you do to make a living?
Anchee: (laugh) I'm a full-time writer. Sometimes, I give speeches and make money out of that. I don't know about future. Maybe teaching creative writing.
(Red Azalea has brought her fortune. She recently bought a house in LA county.)
Annie: Anchee, some people say that your writing style is simple. Does it have to do with English being your second language or it is the style that you are purposely pursuing?
Anchee: A little of both. You see, I didn't know any English when I came to the United States. Learning English has been a painstaking experience. On the other hand, I love Henri Matisse, the painter.
Annie: I love him too, his naïve style.
Anchee: Exactly. The naïve style is also my writing style.
Annie: Why did you choose to write in English?
Anchee: I had all my advanced education in English. I got my BA and MA at Chicago Institute of Arts. I never wrote anything in Chinese before. So both Chinese and English writing were new to me. Since I'm in America, English seems to make more sense.
Annie: Do you read books written by Chinese writers?
Anchee: Yes. I admire Chinese writers. I know that you published books in Chinese. My agent Sandra told me. It must not have been easy to get your work published in such a young age. I think that Chinese writers are wonderful, even better. They just need good translators and a good understanding of American and European markets. I heard that Chinese writers like Mo Yan is learning English now. Good for them.
Annie: Before Red Azalea, Wild Swans was one of the most successful books written by Chinese authors. What do you think of Wild Swans?
Anchee: The English is marvelous. And the story is moving. But honestly speaking, I think her writing lacks passion. Of course, that's her style.
Annie: Reading your books, I feel like in a passionate and surreal world.
Anchee: Yes. That's me and the style I love.
Annie: Where does your passion come from?
Anchee: Memories. My life in China.
Annie: I have a question about your life in China, a very personal question.
Anchee: Ask me, please.
Annie: You know there are some rumors about you and the Hollywood actress Joan Chen, about your relationship. I know the part that she helped you apply American schools. How about your relationship in Shanghai film Studio? How would you describe?
Anchee: a very special relationship. But it's not a sexual relationship. Joan Chen was very successful back then in China. She was a budding star. I was an underdog, politically incorrect. Nobody wanted to be associated with me. They told Joan Chen not to be with me. They told her it was good for her, but she always stood by me, showing her camaraderie and support. I'll never forget it.
Annie: Now, you both made it in the United States. How do you feel about that?
Anchee: Joan Chen was very successful in China before she went to Hollywood. So she might have more pressure than I do. I was nothing in China, and America sets me free. I feel free and happy here, but I think she probably is more nostalgic.
1) Anchee is happily remarried and resides in LA County. Her new book Becoming Madam Mao becomes another successful hit.
2) Anchee Min's praise for Annie Wang's forthcoming novel Lili A Novel of Tiananmen by Pantheon Books:
"I am so happy another Chinese female author emerging upon the international stage. Lili's life is like mountain bamboo forcing its way through granite. Annie Wang vividly captures her character's tormented soul."
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