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Forbidden City

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A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution--in this provocative, poignant novel from the bestselling author of A River of Stars. On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model revolutionary. When the Communist Party recruits girls for a mys A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution--in this provocative, poignant novel from the bestselling author of A River of Stars. On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model revolutionary. When the Communist Party recruits girls for a mysterious duty in the capital, she seizes the opportunity to escape her impoverished village. It is only when Mei arrives at the Chairman’s opulent residence—a forbidden city unto itself—that she learns that the girls’ job is to dance with the Party elites. Ambitious and whip-smart. Mei makes a beeline toward the Chairman. Mei gradually separates from the other recruits to become the Chairman’s confidante—and paramour. As he fends off political rivals, Mei faces down schemers from the dance troupe who will stop at nothing to take her place, as well as the Chairman’s imperious wife, who has schemes of her own. When the Chairman finally gives Mei a political mission, she seizes it with fervor, but the brutality of this latest stage of the revolution makes her begin to doubt all the certainties she has held so dear. Forbidden City is an epic yet intimate portrayal of one of the world's most powerful and least understood leaders during the most turbulent period of modern Chinese history. Mei's harrowing journey toward truth and disillusionment raises questions about power, manipulation, and belief, as seen through the eyes of a passionate teenage girl.


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A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution--in this provocative, poignant novel from the bestselling author of A River of Stars. On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model revolutionary. When the Communist Party recruits girls for a mys A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution--in this provocative, poignant novel from the bestselling author of A River of Stars. On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model revolutionary. When the Communist Party recruits girls for a mysterious duty in the capital, she seizes the opportunity to escape her impoverished village. It is only when Mei arrives at the Chairman’s opulent residence—a forbidden city unto itself—that she learns that the girls’ job is to dance with the Party elites. Ambitious and whip-smart. Mei makes a beeline toward the Chairman. Mei gradually separates from the other recruits to become the Chairman’s confidante—and paramour. As he fends off political rivals, Mei faces down schemers from the dance troupe who will stop at nothing to take her place, as well as the Chairman’s imperious wife, who has schemes of her own. When the Chairman finally gives Mei a political mission, she seizes it with fervor, but the brutality of this latest stage of the revolution makes her begin to doubt all the certainties she has held so dear. Forbidden City is an epic yet intimate portrayal of one of the world's most powerful and least understood leaders during the most turbulent period of modern Chinese history. Mei's harrowing journey toward truth and disillusionment raises questions about power, manipulation, and belief, as seen through the eyes of a passionate teenage girl.

12 review for Forbidden City

  1. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Forbidden City tells the story of Communist China under Mao from 1965 and through the Cultural Revolution. It’s told from the viewpoint of Mei, a fifteen year old peasant girl plucked from her village to join a troupe of dancers, who dance with the Party elites. She loses her virginity to Mao, and soon becomes his paramour. She starts off as starry eyed, envisioning herself as the perfect revolutionary heroine. But with time, reality sets in. As with all communist regimes, there’s no such thing Forbidden City tells the story of Communist China under Mao from 1965 and through the Cultural Revolution. It’s told from the viewpoint of Mei, a fifteen year old peasant girl plucked from her village to join a troupe of dancers, who dance with the Party elites. She loses her virginity to Mao, and soon becomes his paramour. She starts off as starry eyed, envisioning herself as the perfect revolutionary heroine. But with time, reality sets in. As with all communist regimes, there’s no such thing as true equality. Mao and his cohorts live a life of luxury while the peasants starve. Mei was a well fleshed out character and I appreciated learning the story from someone “on the sidelines” as Hua writes in her Author’s Notes. I enjoyed this historical fiction, one of the few I’ve read about Communist China. I did have to google some background, as I was unaware of Yan’an or the earlier background of how Mao rose to power within the party. It did drag a little in the middle, but picked up once the Cultural Revolution started. I would be interested to know if Mao’s sexual proclivities concerning teenage girls were true (a book by his doctor says they are). The book is well researched and gives us a lot of detail about the times. As Hua beautifully says “I believe that fiction flourishes where the official record ends, and that research should serve as the floor - and not the ceiling - to the imagination.” My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    4 stars for an excellent historical fiction book, set during the Cultural Revolution in 1966 China. The narrator is a 16 year old girl who is chosen to join a Beijing dance troupe. Chairman Mao dances with the girls and beds many of them. Mei Xiang, Third Daughter,comes from a rural village. She helps Mao start the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, all to demonstrate his power. She realizes that Mao Zedong has started a terrible movement. Recommended to historical fiction fans. The author is a j 4 stars for an excellent historical fiction book, set during the Cultural Revolution in 1966 China. The narrator is a 16 year old girl who is chosen to join a Beijing dance troupe. Chairman Mao dances with the girls and beds many of them. Mei Xiang, Third Daughter,comes from a rural village. She helps Mao start the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, all to demonstrate his power. She realizes that Mao Zedong has started a terrible movement. Recommended to historical fiction fans. The author is a journalist who has traveled to China and interviewed survivors of the Cultural Revolution. #ForbiddenCity #NetGalley. Thanks to Ballantine Books for sending me this eARC through NetGalley. Pub Date 26 Apr 2022 |

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    4.5 stars In her author's note at the end, Hua states: 'I believe that fiction flourishes where the official record ends, and that research should serve as the floor - and not the ceiling - of the imagination', a wonderfully programmatic statement for this novel which does what I always want from a book set in a historical past: it inhabits its setting without self-imposed hindsight, and offers a window into a different time and mindset that doesn't hit all the predictable milestones. In this case 4.5 stars In her author's note at the end, Hua states: 'I believe that fiction flourishes where the official record ends, and that research should serve as the floor - and not the ceiling - of the imagination', a wonderfully programmatic statement for this novel which does what I always want from a book set in a historical past: it inhabits its setting without self-imposed hindsight, and offers a window into a different time and mindset that doesn't hit all the predictable milestones. In this case, we're in mid-1960s China just before the Cultural Revolution and Mei is just fifteen, from a rural peasant family, when she is 'spotted' and whisked to the Lake Palaces of Beijing, the new 'Forbidden City', presided over by Chairman Mao. Joining a dance troupe, she is soon singled out by the Chairman, first as a dance partner, soon as protégée and, inevitably, mistress. One of the things that makes this story work so well for me is that Mei is of her time: she is desperate to be a revolutionary heroine, and her inner journey is not a soap opera or melodrama. Hua takes the time to fill out the story with depth and detail, each scene built up out of nuance and complexity. There's a sense of realism that comes from deep research worn lightly and an imaginative sympathy that is surprisingly rare in historical fiction - Mei is no twenty-first century girl artificially placed in a 1960s setting. From the girl-on-girl rivalries and friendships of the early chapters to the strangely intimate and yet distant relationship with Mao (Madame on the sidelines), Hua tracks her story with finesse. It's only the last fifty or so pages where it starts to feel a bit processed and constructed, a bit neat and panoramic, even a little predictable. Which is a shame because so much of this book is exemplary in terms of how to write historical, politicised fiction without getting on a soapbox or falling into cultural clichés about, in this case, China. The prose is quietly elegant with a strong narrative voice and Hua catches tone and register with similes and metaphors that reflect Chinese culture, as well as working in the poetry and mythology of the country, giving a solid foundation to the story itself. I loved this and will certainly be checking out Hua's back catalogue - 4.5 stars because of that slight misstep in the final chapters but rounded up to 5.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bkwmlee

    3.5 stars In her third book (and second novel), journalist Vanessa Hua explores the political history of the years leading up to and during China’s Cultural Revolution from an angle that is rarely brought up or written about in mainstream works that discuss China: Mao Zedong’s fascination with ballroom dancing and the resulting practice of recruiting dance troupes to entertain him as well as other Communist Party elite at various gatherings. Hua states in her Author’s Note that seeing documentary 3.5 stars In her third book (and second novel), journalist Vanessa Hua explores the political history of the years leading up to and during China’s Cultural Revolution from an angle that is rarely brought up or written about in mainstream works that discuss China: Mao Zedong’s fascination with ballroom dancing and the resulting practice of recruiting dance troupes to entertain him as well as other Communist Party elite at various gatherings. Hua states in her Author’s Note that seeing documentary footage of “Chairman Mao surrounded by giggling young women in tight sweaters” intrigued her, but when she tried to find more information, there unfortunately wasn’t much. By piecing together some revelations about Mao’s habits and proclivities relayed by his doctor in his memoir, it was understood that these young women existed, but rarely ever mentioned or acknowledged in official records. So based on this information as well as what is publicly known about Mao’s complicated relationship with his personal secretary Zhang Yufeng (who met Mao when she was 18 years old and he was in his sixties), Hua created the fictitious character of peasant girl-turned-revolutionary Mei Xiang in the hopes of giving a voice to the “impoverished women who have shaped China in their own ways yet remain absent from the country’s official narrative.” Growing up as the youngest in a family of 3 daughters in an impoverished village in China, Mei Xiang dreams of becoming a model revolutionary and a patriotic heroine adored and worshipped by many. During one of the Communist Party’s recruitment schemes in the villages, Mei Xiang jumps at the opportunity to leave her plight behind. Arriving at the capital, she comes to understand that the “duty” she was recruited for involves dancing with Party elite as part of a specially trained dance troupe. It is at these dances that she meets the Chairman, the head of the Party as well as the country — a man that she (as well as most of the population) has been taught to idolize ever since he come to power years ago. Soon, Mei Xiang becomes the Chairman’s close confidante and paramour, and when the Chairman starts to involve her in his political missions, Mei feels she is finally on the path to achieving her dreams. But as the Cultural Revolution becomes a reality and Mei witnesses the atrocities that result from it, she begins to doubt the truth of what she had been told her entire life. It’s not until she moves toward disillusionment that Mei starts to understand what this realization will ultimately cost her. Vanessa Hua’s previous novel — her debut River of Stars — covered a topic that I rarely (if ever) saw written about in fiction: birth tourism. This time around, with her second novel, Hua once again explores yet another rarely-discussed topic — one that often gets buried when it comes to discourse surrounding China and the Cultural Revolution. As familiar as I was with this time period and the historical context of China’s Cultural Revolution, the angle of Mao’s relationship with the women in his inner circle and him possibly using them in his political machinations was an altogether less familiar topic for me. Hua’s research in this regard was meticulous, with both the historical and cultural elements especially well-rendered. Having said that though, I have to admit that I enjoyed Hua’s debut so much more than this one, mostly because I found it difficult to overcome my disgust with the relationship at the center of this story (a powerful man in his sixties manipulating a disillusioned sixteen-year-old girl). Even though I understood the reality and plausibility of such an arrangement during that period historically, it was still uncomfortable to read, particularly when it came to the more graphic details of the Chairman and Mei’s relationship (much of which I honestly felt was unnecessary). Structurally, while I liked the writing, I felt that the pacing overall was a bit off and he story dragged a bit too much towards the middle, with some of the plot points also a bit repetitive. I also found most of the characters difficult to like, which I guess isn’t surprising given the nature of the story. With that said, I did feel empathy for Mei Xiang and her harrowing, heartbreaking story — a coming-of-age story no doubt, but also one of self-discovery as well as self-preservation. Even though I wasn’t too keen on the subject matter this time around, I’m still glad I read this, if anything, for the insights it provided. One of the things I appreciate most about Vanessa Hua’s works is that she doesn’t shy away from controversial topics and takes up the challenge of an uncomfortable story head-on (which probably has a lot to do with her journalist background). I look forward to seeing what Hua will write about next! Received ARC from Ballantine Books via NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    I kept thinking as I read this book that the author had to be my age, and had as a teen been part of the Red Guard--or endured their terrible violence first person, while living out in the Chinese countryside at the time. It's the details--the folk tales that endured among the peasants in spite of "the Four Olds" being forbidden, the folk tales that were given a red twist, the superstitions, and above all, the survivor-thinking that comes of generations of grinding poverty and watching one's fam I kept thinking as I read this book that the author had to be my age, and had as a teen been part of the Red Guard--or endured their terrible violence first person, while living out in the Chinese countryside at the time. It's the details--the folk tales that endured among the peasants in spite of "the Four Olds" being forbidden, the folk tales that were given a red twist, the superstitions, and above all, the survivor-thinking that comes of generations of grinding poverty and watching one's family, and village, die of starvation, war, etc. Turns out she researched the book more than ten years. Ten years on this impeccably written gut punch of a novel. It shows. The basic storyline is a teenage peasant chosen by Chairman Mao's procurer to be a fresh "dance hall" girl, who gets picked by seventy-plus-year-old Mao to be a plaything as well as a tool against political enemies. Mao's actions are nothing new--this is what emperors did for thousands of years, in having a constant flow of teenage concubines* whose lives were often as disposable as any other service animal, while on the surface there was great political hoo-rah about the girls' dedication and importance to the party and how heroic they would be regarded if they died in service to the Cause. Not an easy read, but gracefully written, with resonatingly real emotion and devastating detail. Wow. *the West was no better in its misogyny, just different paradigm Copy provided by NetGalley

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    As someone whose parents grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, I looked forward to "Forbidden City" in the hopes that I would better understand the situation and time they grew up in but... this wasn't exactly that. While labeled as a piece of historical fiction, Hua's work is probably better categorized as a historical retelling or reinterpretation of this time, as, in her afterword, she notes both the research done as well as the liberties taken when writing this novel. The story is As someone whose parents grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, I looked forward to "Forbidden City" in the hopes that I would better understand the situation and time they grew up in but... this wasn't exactly that. While labeled as a piece of historical fiction, Hua's work is probably better categorized as a historical retelling or reinterpretation of this time, as, in her afterword, she notes both the research done as well as the liberties taken when writing this novel. The story is told from the perspective of Mei Xiang, a woman in San Francisco in 1976, but immediately jumps to her childhood in China in the 1960s, marked as a "peasant" during the Cultural Revolution. Not even 16, she's recruited into a specially commissioned dance troupe by Chairman Mao Zedong and leaves her family for the capital in Beijing. There, she becomes the Chairman's "paramour", and tries to become the model revolutionary, all while having a behind-the-scenes look at the political underworkings of his government. First, the not-so-good: throughout the majority of this novel, I was disturbed by the relationship between (16 year-old) Mei Xiang and the Chairman, a married man in his 60s. I can understand Hua's desire to drive a point at the exploitation and brainwashing of women during this time (and many other periods) but the amount of detail that was written about multiple times throughout felt unnecessary, even just for shock value. So: a major TW for rape, as well as suicide, should be noted for this novel. I did, however, appreciate that "Forbidden City" sheds light on such a major point in history that I feel is not written much about, and sharing it from the perspective of an individual who is both taken up by and eventually betrays the movement. Mei encountered some truly heartbreaking situations and decisions, and while I couldn't always agree with her actions, was able to empathize with her and the difficulty of her environment. The discovery of who she's actually narrating her story to was one of the emotional peaks for me, and one of the most poignant points of the novel. Thank you Ballantine Books for an advance copy of this novel!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sahitya

    CW: rape, teenage girl’s relationship with an old man, suicide, miscarriage, torture I read historical fiction so rarely, that I usually don’t know what are the new releases in the genre or what’s popular. But I recently saw a couple of tweets praising this one and I was immediately intrigued. I have so many fantasy arcs but when mood reading strikes, I can’t help it. So here I am after finishing this very uncomfortable and unflinching book set during 1965-66 China. I have to warn you first abou CW: rape, teenage girl’s relationship with an old man, suicide, miscarriage, torture I read historical fiction so rarely, that I usually don’t know what are the new releases in the genre or what’s popular. But I recently saw a couple of tweets praising this one and I was immediately intrigued. I have so many fantasy arcs but when mood reading strikes, I can’t help it. So here I am after finishing this very uncomfortable and unflinching book set during 1965-66 China. I have to warn you first about a couple of things. Within the first couple of chapters, you’ll encounter a rape scene of a 15 year old girl, our protagonist and who then continues to become a paramour/lover of her rapist, Mao Zedong. Their “relationship” is the central part of this story, and while it did creep me out to read about a 70+ man having taking advantage of a teenage girl and continuing to have sex with her, the story and the protagonist Mei kept me going. But if you are very uncomfortable with these dynamics, it’s better you avoid this book. Coming to the writing, I have to say it was very gorgeous without being lyrical, capturing each character’s feelings very deeply and making us feel the emotions. But I think the writing itself had to be beautiful because the story is really an ugly one. The pacing can be a bit slow too, especially in the middle portions because it mostly feels like a slice of story, but I was engrossed enough that I didn’t notice these issues. The author’s meticulous research shows in the way she perfectly captures the ethos of China before the Cultural Revolution and once it begins, the lives of the peasants in remote villages and how removed they are from the kind of lives the elite live in the capital, the veneration of Chairman Mao like a god and how it fuels the survival of the people - it all felt very real and palpable but it was also told in a way that I was able to read it, unlike Yang Jisheng’s nonfiction book about the time period which I couldn’t really handle. The reason is that the brewing Cultural Revolution is mostly towards the last quarter of the book and we as a reader are mostly at a remove from the reality of what is happening - there are only few scenes which capture in detail the fervor and cruelty of the Red Guard during those times - this makes it more palatable to read but if you are looking specifically to read about the Revolution in detail, then you will be disappointed. I think what the author manages to do successfully is show us the ways in which power and manipulation works; how lies and half truths and insinuations are the weapon of the powerful to quash any rebellion against them; and how easy it is to get seduced by proximity to power, expecting that one will get a share in it too. It’s a searing look at how meaningful words like “revolution” and “power of the people” are misused to rile up the ignorant masses - especially young students who are eager to be a part of the fight against the capitalists just like their parents and grandparents were - and become clarion calls for resolving grudges and revenge and power struggles instead. And finally it’s about the effect a cult/god like figure can have on people who just want to better their lives and get out of abject poverty, how easy it is to make such people feel like they belong to something greater and their contributions matter. The motivation of the people in those times might be different than the qanon and right wing supporters of today, but the utter devotion they feel for their leader is eerily similar. Our protagonist and the only POV we get is a 15 year old peasant girl who is handpicked to become part of a dance troupe in Beijing, whose job it is to entertain the elite and occasionally sleep with the Chairman. She idolizes him like a god (actually all the girls of the troupe do) and they all fight with each other to get the opportunity to service him. But Mei has ambitions too - she totally believes in his words, and dreams of becoming a model revolutionary, who can tour the whole country spreading his message to the people. It’s hard to like her when we see her manipulate her way into being in his good graces and being so anxious to do anything to please him, but then we realize she is just a 15-16 year old girl who has been taught since she was born that the Chairman was their savior, and what can be more rewarding for her than being his companion as well as close confidant/protégé. But we also slowly realize that she is smart and observant, can see the flaws in what’s happening, maybe does realize that he isn’t as infallible a leader as she thought he was, but is not in a position to question authority or give up the little power that she thinks she has gained. It’s heartbreaking to see her be manipulated, gaslighted, and cajoled into being just a tool in a powerful man’s hands - easily disposable and replaceable; but equally hopeful when she manages to see through the illusion and finally makes decisions for herself. I mean what can I say about Mao Zedong’s character. I probably can’t separate my feelings about the character in the book from the real life person, so bear with me a bit. It was fascinating to see him from the POV of a young girl who worships him and how larger than life, all powerful, and all capable he feels like when seen through her eyes. But as she slowly starts living with him, we see him for what he is (even if she doesn’t) - someone who likes his dancing and company of young girls, indulging in his riches when most of the country is starving; a leader who is scared of losing his authority and will do anything to regain it all even if it leads to death and destruction, but strategic enough to ensure nothings harms him or his image; who is mercurial in his moods, occasionally depressed, and has a progressing illness which he has to hide from everyone; and ultimately be in control of everything and everyone. It’s hard to feel anything else for him except loathing. There are also side characters like Teacher Fan and Secretary Sun, who can also be called Mei’s mentors, who show some kindness to her but not always in a way that she can feel it. We also have members of her dance group like Busy Shan and Midnight Chang who are all mirrors of each other, each finding the possibility of what they could be in the other, leading to some very antagonistic dynamics. The way the story starts in the book, we know Mei has escaped and lives in the US and this book is her narrating her story and relationship with the Chairman to someone - and it’s a very unsettling and sad revelation when we realize to whom she is her story. And ultimately that is what Forbidden City is - a young woman’s coming of age story, her grappling with agency and proximity to power and the desire to be a part of something, until till she realizes the reality of her choices. This may not be for everyone but I found myself deeply engrossed in the book and thought it was a great historical fiction book, bringing those less talked about times to life. I’m now definitely interested to checkout the author’s previous works.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ari

    I quickly put this book down when I realized what kind of fuckshit this was. This story is, in short, speculation about Mao based on a picture that the author tried to research and then failed to glean any valid details. I'm tired of reviewers saying that this book is "meticulously researched" when all it does is combine the palace intrigue of a wuxia drama with the author's idea of Mao Zedong. Even the barest engagement with Chinese media reveals how actually mediocre this story is. This book an I quickly put this book down when I realized what kind of fuckshit this was. This story is, in short, speculation about Mao based on a picture that the author tried to research and then failed to glean any valid details. I'm tired of reviewers saying that this book is "meticulously researched" when all it does is combine the palace intrigue of a wuxia drama with the author's idea of Mao Zedong. Even the barest engagement with Chinese media reveals how actually mediocre this story is. This book and its research should not be seen as an authority. It is ahistorical as can be. I want to address the source image that inspired the novel: "Chairman Mao ballroom dancing with a young woman" taken by Dimitry Balermants. That's all that we know. Not the event, not the woman, not even much about the photographer. You can't even see the young woman's face in the photo. How convenient that there is so little context from the source material. Defenders of the novel might point out that Hua also drew reference from a physician's memoir, when it should be noted that this physician was granted US immigration in exchange for making up lies about Mao Zedong posthumously. Part of me doesn't want to believe this book was funded by a grant. And yet, I read Finks by Joel Whitney, so I suppose I can. No one's saying the Cultural Revolution wasn't a crazy time. It has left a lasting mark on China, both its positive and negative influences. But Western audiences (including many Asian Americans) are already ignorant, sinophobic, and under the spell of orientalism. The backcover of this very book can't even help self-orientalizing, describing Mao as "the most mysterious leader," which made me laugh out loud. It's not like there aren't literally billions of people in this world who know about Mao's history and legacy, including people who would be far more reliable sources than the physician. Mao was also a prolific writer, and there exist many books and scholars that critically engage with his ideas and decisions. But Hua's Forbidden City is not interested in that. All this novel is going to do is make readers think Mao was some lascivious cult leader. If you want to indict Mao, wouldn't it make more sense to do so based on the things he actually said and did? The reason why people mythologize and sensationalize major historical figures is because people in the West prefer to make up stories about why someone was a problematic person rather than engage with the ideas, struggles and contradictions that arose during their time of influence. They'd rather turn history into a soap opera, which the historically illiterate or ignorant will accept as truth or even partial truth. History is a creative well, and historical fiction a long and expansive tradition. And one of the genre's strengths is that it can add to people's understanding of a complex time. This book perhaps had the potential to do so, too. Instead, Forbidden City squanders that potential. It fails to give nuance or critique, and instead brings the reader back to the conclusion that neoliberal individualism is valued at the highest order. Yawn.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Several years ago, I read “The Secret Piano,” which opened my eyes about China’s “Cultural Revolution.” I put quotes around that, because generally one would think of a revolution as being a move toward the positive. But Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution was anything but. Honestly, it was horrendous and I was interested that I’d been alive during the time (1966-1976) although I really knew almost nothing about it. I remember junior high social studies, in the late ’70s, and learning about Mao Z Several years ago, I read “The Secret Piano,” which opened my eyes about China’s “Cultural Revolution.” I put quotes around that, because generally one would think of a revolution as being a move toward the positive. But Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution was anything but. Honestly, it was horrendous and I was interested that I’d been alive during the time (1966-1976) although I really knew almost nothing about it. I remember junior high social studies, in the late ’70s, and learning about Mao Zedong (it always sounded to me like the teacher was saying Mousie Toong). I wonder whether we knew at that time how awful things were there? During the revolution, Mao had the Chinese people get rid of any books other than those promoting his ideas. Classical and other “old” music was discarded and only revolutionary tunes were allowed. Many people starved and died in other ways. So, when I saw “The Forbidden City,” a fictional account of a Chinese girl during this time, I thought it would be interesting. Mei is 15 when Communist party workers choose her and take her away from her parents and two older sisters to go to the capital city. She is told that “the Party would provide our families with two months’ worth of work points because of the hardship our absence caused. Those points determined how much food we received.” Although she doesn’t know it at the time, Mei will never again see any of her family members. Once in the capital, Mei is put into a class to learn dancing. And soon, she catches the eye of Dear Leader Chairman Mao himself. The 72-year-old leader claims her, you can probably guess for what purpose. This is described several times in the book, which is icky, but seems plausible. Mei becomes enthralled with the Chairman rather than repulsed. “When he spoke like this, he seemed to see history all at once, thousands of years of oppression and failed revolts, millions upon millions of lives wasted until revolution arrived. I strained to understand what seemed just beyond the limits of my perception.” The Chairman lets Mei learn various things and she is used for some of his plans in bringing down other politicians. But, she sees what goes on in the highest echelons of power, and knows that every girl in her position is eventually replaced. She sees her dance teacher and others fall from favor, and one girl in her dance troupe even commits suicide. This book felt long, and I found myself really immersed into what life might have been like for a teenage girl of that time and in that place, “swept up into the patriotism of those times and to meet a man she’d been raised to worship as a god,” as author Vanessa Hua writes in her author’s note. Hua is a daughter of Chinese immigrants, which adds interest I think. I can’t say the book was very pleasant for the most part, but it wasn’t a pleasant part of history. Interesting, well-written book. I also think the cover looks great; very “of the time.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Zemeckis

    Excellent engrossing story of a young peasant woman who wants to be a hero for Chairman Mao and her relationship with him. Loved this - recruited from her village describes the hardships and training she ensures to help bring down the President and start the ten year cultural war - so so good

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    There are no “reveals” here that aren’t covered in the book blurb, chapter 1, or Wikipedia’s entry on Mao Zedong. Forbidden City may be set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and author Vanessa Hua may have started the novel 15 years ago, but it is uncannily timely. What it has to say about cults of personality, and how easily the masses are swayed to believe and do things ranging from stupid to terrible, is very relevant to today. It’s a reminder that the moment we live in may feel unique, but There are no “reveals” here that aren’t covered in the book blurb, chapter 1, or Wikipedia’s entry on Mao Zedong. Forbidden City may be set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and author Vanessa Hua may have started the novel 15 years ago, but it is uncannily timely. What it has to say about cults of personality, and how easily the masses are swayed to believe and do things ranging from stupid to terrible, is very relevant to today. It’s a reminder that the moment we live in may feel unique, but it’s not without precedent. It’s not just the cult of personality and mass hysteria that’s eerily relevant, it’s also the whole Roe situation. As the protagonist finds herself in a situation where her bodily autonomy is compromised, she is constantly thinking of how to have agency over at least her uterus. She combs the hills and gardens for an herb called dong quai, and I wonder how many women reading this book are already looking to buy some seeds for their own post-Roe garden. What a thought. The author couldn’t have known how relevant this plot point would be, but she didn’t need to, because it’s been relevant since at least the dawn of agriculture, when, arguably, patriarchy became a thing. Backing up, the story follows a 15-year-old peasant girl, Mei, who is taken from her rural village into an urban “dance troupe” designed to entertain Chairman Mao and his cadre, and if this sounds like a harem, you would be correct. It’s horrifying to imagine this child falling into the hands of an elderly bloated narcissist, but that’s what happened. Not this exact character—she is invented. But Mao did surround himself with teenage girls, many of whom he probably bedded. I don’t know how I would have handled writing about this, but I appreciate Hua’s choices. Her focus is not on how awful this was for Mei, how she suffered, or what a victim she was—that would have been fair, but that’s not the story she tells. (Though there is some of the terribleness, so if that’s a trigger, be warmed.) Hua gives Mei as much agency as a person in her situation can have. Mei is sharp, calculating, and ambitious, and she figures out how to turn the situation in her favor as much as possible. A parallel story happened in Mao’s Zedong’s real history: Zhang Yufeng was a young woman who ended up Mao’s personal secretary and paramour. She was at his side for latter part of his life and maneuvered herself to become the most powerful person in his orbit, more powerful than any of his counselors or even his wife. She had total control of access to him by the end; nobody got close without her permission. She was even interpreting his speech, garbled as it was by his struggle with ALS. Mei’s story is not the same as Zhang’s but is clearly inspired by it. I didn’t know this initially, but learned it when I looked up Mao’s history. Side note: Zhang Yufeng is still alive and wrote a memoir about her time with Mao, but it was (surprise!) censored. Hua imagines Mei as not just a confidante of Mao’s, but an advisor. She plants ideas in his head. In fact, Hua imagines Mei as central to Mao’s idea for the Cultural Revolution. Mei was born at the same time as the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, so she has never known anything else, she is steeped in the mythology of Chinese Communism and the cult of Mao. She is a true believer. At first. As things continue, someone as sharp as her is forced to reconcile what she was raised to believe with what she’s seeing with her own eyes. This is one of the central tensions of the novel. I didn’t know much about the Great Leap Forward (which is in the recent past as the novel begins) or the Cultural Revolution, and it’s fascinating to be in Mei’s point of view as we learn the outlines of both of those horrors. You wonder how one person could so badly fuck up a huge country and pay so little a price for it, but that’s the history of autocrats. You can read this as a history of latter-day Mao, but it really is Mei’s story—told from her viewpoint much later in life. She is a remarkable, infuriating, inspiring character. She sometimes steps aside and reminds her audience* that she is aware how problematic her thinking seems, “But remember: I was a child.” It is a useful reminder. What was important to Hua was to tell the story of someone who might have existed in real life, but whose story would have been erased. She wants to imagine the history of the marginalized, dismissed, and forgotten. [*Who is her audience? She is clearly addressing someone, but we don’t know who. Neither did Hua, interestingly. When she figured it out, “it was like a key turning in a lock.” We probably learn it at the same time in the unfolding of the narrative as she did. It’s not a shock, but it’s quite poignant.] I listened to an interview on KQED with Hua and May-Lee Chai, an author who teaches at San Francisco State University. The interviewer was Alexis Madrigal, a writer for The Atlantic who was born in Mexico. The three talked about how there’s an appetite now, finally, for these stories—those of the marginalized, dismissed, and forgotten. More than ninety percent of novels coming out of New York publishers were, until recently, written by white people, and in particular men. Now there’s enough interest in marginalized voices that we can move past the one big story (which makes me think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” on the same subject). Writers can assume a certain level of familiarity in their readers and can therefore drill down into the smaller, more nuanced stories within “the big story” of a place or a time. Chai includes, with Hua’s novel, Vauhini Vara’s The Immortal King Rao and Jenny Tinghui Zhang’s Four Treasures of the Sky as novels by Asian-American writers that explore history in surprising, creative ways. Edition note: The audiobook is engagingly narrated by Catherine Ho, I recommend the audio version for any book that has names and phrases in a language other than English, because it’s so useful (to me) to hear things pronounced correctly. It was worth it alone to hear the Chinese tongue-twister read aloud: Māmā qí mǎ. Mǎ màn, māmā mà mǎ. Translation: “Mother is riding a horse. The horse is slow, mother scolds the horse.” I got the physical book from the library. Some books you need a physical copy of, if there are loads of characters or confusing plot points you need to reference, but I didn’t find that to be true with this one. It was pretty easy to follow.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I so wanted to love this book as historical fiction is a favorite. And, I have an MA in International Affairs with a minor in China. So, I was familiar with the setting and the timeframe. Background: "A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution... On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model re I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I so wanted to love this book as historical fiction is a favorite. And, I have an MA in International Affairs with a minor in China. So, I was familiar with the setting and the timeframe. Background: "A teenage girl living in 1960s China becomes Mao Zedong's protégée and lover--and a poster child for the Cultural Revolution... On the eve of China's Cultural Revolution and her sixteenth birthday, Mei dreams of becoming a model revolutionary. When the Communist Party recruits girls for a mysterious duty in the capital, she seizes the opportunity to escape her impoverished village. It is only when Mei arrives at the Chairman’s opulent residence—a forbidden city unto itself—that she learns that the girls’ job is to dance with the Party elites. Ambitious and whip-smart. Mei makes a beeline toward the Chairman. Mei gradually separates from the other recruits to become the Chairman’s confidante—and paramour. As he fends off political rivals, Mei faces down schemers from the dance troupe who will stop at nothing to take her place, as well as the Chairman’s imperious wife, who has schemes of her own. When the Chairman finally gives Mei a political mission, she seizes it with fervor, but the brutality of this latest stage of the revolution makes her begin to doubt all the certainties she has held so dear." What did I think? I was disappointed. I found it quite repetitious and flat. While the book begins in San Francisco in 1976, it really isn't until the very end until we find out how Mei got there. [Ok the story is China pre- and during the Cultural Revolution, but...] I felt much bashed over the head [as those living in China in the time of the Cultural Revolution must have felt--althought they had to be fearful and I did not.] I kept waiting and wanting to know the trajectory [which was almost anti-climatic--though no real spoiler from me--even her journey took a long while.] So, somewhat interesting but not enough. Not sure how to rate but since the writing didn't grate on me, a 3. So, how true? Far-fetched? Probably not. {Read the author's note--many details recorded, of course some liberties taken but...]And the cover--so reminiscent of the time and place/spot on! flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Apr 17, 2022 Cat rated it really liked it Vanessa Hua has written a thoroughly researched and deeply moving saga of growing up female in 1960’s China during the Cultural Revolution. At times, this is a difficult story to read, but it’s an accurate portrayal of life in a slowly evolving China during the 1960s.Mei is chosen to go to the Forbidden City; her purpose isn’t clear but she’s determined to be the best and catch the eye of the Chairman. It’s quickly revealed that one of her main duties is to pleasure the Chairman. She sees an opp Vanessa Hua has written a thoroughly researched and deeply moving saga of growing up female in 1960’s China during the Cultural Revolution. At times, this is a difficult story to read, but it’s an accurate portrayal of life in a slowly evolving China during the 1960s.Mei is chosen to go to the Forbidden City; her purpose isn’t clear but she’s determined to be the best and catch the eye of the Chairman. It’s quickly revealed that one of her main duties is to pleasure the Chairman. She sees an opportunity to succeed and provide a better life for her family back home.The recruits, girls from various parts of the country, are cut-throat competitive. Nothing is sacred or safe, and they quickly become vengeful animals capable of anything to get ahead. This is how things are throughout the dynasty; anyone will do anything to gain favor, and the most common cost is death.Mei continues to believe that her family is being provided for, thanks to her undying devotion to the Chairman and her ability to please him, both in and out of the bed. But as she’s exposed to more of the reality, she begins to see through the cracks of the shiny veneer she’s become a part of.Historically accurate, emotional, and fast-paced, this book should be a must-read for anyone who is interested in modern Chinese history or for those who think they have it rough in their own country.Sincere thanks to Random House- Ballantine for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The publishing date is May 10, 2022. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Jun 11, 2022 D.T. Henderson rated it it was ok Shelves: diverse-fiction, made-me-think, ashy-needed-lotion, slowwww, good-intentions-but-meh I didn't mesh well with the writing style here. Very dry and slow-moving. It’s written very matter-of-factly throughout the abuse (sexual, mental, physical, minor-adult relationships, etc), the mysteries, or the amazing determinations, which could be accredited to an older Mei narrating her own story; It’s basically in the voice of someone talking to you, I suppose. Where this story excels is in making us believe as Mei does in the revolution, in the Chairman, and in her own role in the movement I didn't mesh well with the writing style here. Very dry and slow-moving. It’s written very matter-of-factly throughout the abuse (sexual, mental, physical, minor-adult relationships, etc), the mysteries, or the amazing determinations, which could be accredited to an older Mei narrating her own story; It’s basically in the voice of someone talking to you, I suppose. Where this story excels is in making us believe as Mei does in the revolution, in the Chairman, and in her own role in the movement. The fear and anxiety Mei has about being replaced hovers over readers too. We see class issues and women’s worth questioned here as well.But despite the inner circle scrabbles, the hidden sides of the Chairman, and the pitting girls against each other, I didn’t feel much motivation to keep reading. This is supposed to be how Mei rises to #1 mistress, then gets disillusioned until her inevitable fall. I wished I could have liked the journey to getting there better. None of this was boring per se, but I almost dnf’ed it.ETA: I forgot something. GOLLY did Mei ask questions. There are literal pages of her just asking questions. She said she gon know what's going on. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Mar 08, 2022 Kristina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition Shelves: netgalley, arc, ebook, read-in-2022 In Vanessa Hua's Forbidden City, the Cultural Revolution in China is seen through the eyes of Mei, a teenage girl, who is Mao Zedong's confidant and lover. Mei has a revolutionary spirit and is plucked from her small village to live in the capital with other girls her same age who entertain party leadership at dances. She is ambitious and sets her eyes on the Chairman. Everyone in this story has their own ambitions which are revealed over time. Mei was not a super compelling character to me, but In Vanessa Hua's Forbidden City, the Cultural Revolution in China is seen through the eyes of Mei, a teenage girl, who is Mao Zedong's confidant and lover. Mei has a revolutionary spirit and is plucked from her small village to live in the capital with other girls her same age who entertain party leadership at dances. She is ambitious and sets her eyes on the Chairman. Everyone in this story has their own ambitions which are revealed over time. Mei was not a super compelling character to me, but the way she was used in the book to showcase this point in history was informative. The cultural revolution and the tumult in the country is fascinating and this was an interesting avenue to provide historical context. I appreciated the look in on a country's history that I was not very familiar with.Thank you to Ballantine Books via NetGalley for the advance reader copy in exchange for honest review. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Feb 28, 2022 Jennifer Nelson rated it really liked it Shelves: historical-fiction, books-i-own, war-revolution, first-reads, asia Received through FirstReads...I didn't expect this to be such an absorbing read. Something about the cover made me think it was going to be dull, but quite the opposite. It's one of those you want to read right through. The conflicting emotions of the main character are very vividly brought to life. You are able to feel sympathy for her, while at the same time cringing at some of her actions. It also illustrates the cult of personality that surrounds a dictator, and how easily large groups of pe Received through FirstReads...I didn't expect this to be such an absorbing read. Something about the cover made me think it was going to be dull, but quite the opposite. It's one of those you want to read right through. The conflicting emotions of the main character are very vividly brought to life. You are able to feel sympathy for her, while at the same time cringing at some of her actions. It also illustrates the cult of personality that surrounds a dictator, and how easily large groups of people can be convinced to commit atrocities in that person's name, self-righteous all the while. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review May 30, 2022 Lisa Lewis rated it it was amazing I couldn't put this down. Forbidden City is captivating, immersive and richly detailed. I was drawn in from the very beginning by the voice of the narrator, a then-15-year-old peasant girl who maneuvers to be selected for a role serving Chairman Mao. Her gradual realization of what she's become part of is interwoven with the historical record in a way that's both seamless and haunting. I couldn't put this down. Forbidden City is captivating, immersive and richly detailed. I was drawn in from the very beginning by the voice of the narrator, a then-15-year-old peasant girl who maneuvers to be selected for a role serving Chairman Mao. Her gradual realization of what she's become part of is interwoven with the historical record in a way that's both seamless and haunting. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review May 30, 2022 Karen rated it it was amazing A remarkable, illuminating and engrossing novel set in communist China, seamlessly blending historical fact and fiction in an empathetic portrait of a young mistress (or sex slave…) of Chairman Mao. Although set in the last century, reading this book through today’s “me too” lens adds multiple textures and creates additional empathy for the protagonist, Mei. flag 2 likes · Like  · see review Apr 24, 2022 Abby rated it really liked it Shelves: arc, china, historical, female-centered, cultural, ownvoices Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for allowing me to read this ARC!Content Warning: death (including that of children), murder, violence, misogyny, rape, sexual assault, grooming, minor/adult relationship, torture, parental abuse.It's 1965. China is on the edge of its Cultural Revolution, a plunge off a precipice that will lead to even darker depths than anyone can imagine. Mei Xiang is on the edge of revolution, too. She makes a decision that will not only lead her into Chairma Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for allowing me to read this ARC!Content Warning: death (including that of children), murder, violence, misogyny, rape, sexual assault, grooming, minor/adult relationship, torture, parental abuse.It's 1965. China is on the edge of its Cultural Revolution, a plunge off a precipice that will lead to even darker depths than anyone can imagine. Mei Xiang is on the edge of revolution, too. She makes a decision that will not only lead her into Chairman Mao's inner circle, but will have repercussions that she could never even begin to imagine. Not quite sixteen, she is chosen as one of the many young girls to be in the "cultural troupe" that will dance not only with the most elite members of China's Red Party, but Mao himself. What Mei doesn't realize is that Mao is as quick to choose a girl as he is to discard her, and the competition is shockingly cruel. By chance, she becomes the girl that Mao takes on as his mistress and his protégée, but there's a steep learning curve as Mei goes from wanting to be a revolutionary hero to realizing just how deeply the darkness in Mao's party goes... Prior to picking up this book, I had basic knowledge of Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution, and China's Communist party, but my knowledge of his personal life was definitely lacking. Through the eyes of the brave, independent Mei, we become privy to the workings of Mao's relationships and life, but I think what sets this book apart from others that deal with relationships between a famous (or infamous) man and a woman (or, as in this case, a girl) is that this is squarely Mei's story. While it does offer us incisive commentary on the man Mao is and the man he believes he is, our heroine drives the narrative and also fearlessly fights against the ever-constricting rules imposed upon her.Although the relationship between Mao and Mei is portrayed as what it is -- a much, much older man, preying on a little girl -- it also does a fantastic job of conveying Mei's feelings to you without romanticizing the twisted "love" that Mao supposedly feels for her. It also impressed me that you see Mei as she grows into that awkward stage of somehow being both woman and child, growing up but still being young and vulnerable to the manipulation of adults. I loved that Hua expertly weaved in the repulsiveness of Mao and his predatory behavior to this girl, all while making it clear to us how she falls under his sinister spell. I must also praise the side characters, because while they remain on the outer edges, they nonetheless impact Mei and the narrative. Secretary Sun has to be the first mentioned: in spite of the fact that this novel is told solely through first-person, he is complex, deep, and his emotions -- his darkness and his light -- are plain to see due to Hua's wonderful character crafting. The gradual build of his relationship with Mei felt authentic, and it was obvious to see why he was the one she sought out time and time again. While both Mei and Sun act as foils to Mao, I think it's also worth remembering the role he plays in Mei's story, and how the adults in her life continue to fail her, no matter how much they claim to like her or understand her. Mei's main rival, Midnight Chang, didn't quite get a chance for the same depth (mostly since she spends the majority of the novel off-page), but it was so fascinating to see her play this character of the revolutionary heroine that Mei longs to be. I loved that there were moments where it was obvious that in another place, in another time, perhaps she and Mei would've become not enemies, but friends and allies. Mei's teacher, Mao's clever, imperious wife, and some of the other characters Mei encounters (however briefly) also leave lasting impressions. I think that some people will find this story a little slow, perhaps even meandering, but for me, there's a strength in the way that Hua lingers over the smaller details of Mei's life with Mao, hidden away in the Lake Palaces or traveling with him to see where he was born. The portrait Hua paints of Mao's inner vulnerabilities and insecurities, Mei's political training, and the suffocating sensation of being trapped constantly with Mao in his paranoia is powerful, oftentimes uncomfortable. There were some moments where I thought things could've been trimmed or moved a bit more quickly, but overall, I think the impact of forcing us to sit with Mei as she goes through her mixed, conflicted feelings is painfully effective. The pacing is not perfect, but I can't stress enough how fantastic this story is in its characters, plotlines, and the way it brings history to life. Highly, highly recommended! flag 2 likes · Like  · see review May 25, 2022 Mainlinebooker rated it liked it Shelves: literary-fiction Initially, I was very attracted to the whole premise of the book. What an interesting way to present grappling with the ideology of the Cultural Revolution and its creator, Chairman Mao. A young impoverished 15 year old Mei Xiang jumped at the opportunity to leave her village and become part of a dance troupe at the Forbidden palace. With fervor, and Machiavellian nationalism, she connives to become the 72 year old's lover, confidante and pupil. She faces down other scheming members of her dance Initially, I was very attracted to the whole premise of the book. What an interesting way to present grappling with the ideology of the Cultural Revolution and its creator, Chairman Mao. A young impoverished 15 year old Mei Xiang jumped at the opportunity to leave her village and become part of a dance troupe at the Forbidden palace. With fervor, and Machiavellian nationalism, she connives to become the 72 year old's lover, confidante and pupil. She faces down other scheming members of her dance troupe to become his favorite, although there is continuous jealousy and in-fighting within the dance troupe. These young girls, scapegoats to the "cause" end up betraying one another instead of examining and revolting against the reality of the Party's ideals. Midway through the book Mao decides to use Mei Xiang on a political assignment to discredit and shame the President of the party. With grandiose ideas of her becoming a poster child for the Revolution, she seizes the opportunity . However, when the reality of the Revolution and its brutality is realized, she has to rethink her positions.I got tired of reading about the Chairman's predilections, but was tantalized by reading about some of his true history from his nocturnal habits, his use of sleeping pills, a swim across the Yangtze, and his depression. However, I was not enamored by the pacing of the novel. The larger lessons about females' lack of empowerment, younger girls used as toys, narcissistic autocrats, political divisions and hate crimes remains true to this day...History repeats itself again and again. flag 1 like · Like  · see review View 2 comments Jun 09, 2022 BookStarRaven rated it liked it Shelves: arc, fiction, asian-themed Quick Take: Mei Xiang, a poor girl from China’s countryside, is swept up in the Cultural Revolution in ways she never would have imagined.The novel Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua is a look into one of China’s most important recent historical movements, the Cultural Revolution. Mei Xiang grew up in China’s poor countryside during the Cultural iral Revolution. When she got the chance to move to Beijing and perform for the chairman, she took it. She soon found out that she was chosen as a concubine Quick Take: Mei Xiang, a poor girl from China’s countryside, is swept up in the Cultural Revolution in ways she never would have imagined.The novel Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua is a look into one of China’s most important recent historical movements, the Cultural Revolution. Mei Xiang grew up in China’s poor countryside during the Cultural iral Revolution. When she got the chance to move to Beijing and perform for the chairman, she took it. She soon found out that she was chosen as a concubine to chairman Mao and as they grew closer, he gave her special tasks. I appreciated the historical accuracy of this book. The Cultural Revolution is something most people have heard of but most don’t know much about it. This book brings to life the consequences of such a revolution and what it was like for ordinary people and politicians alike.This book took me a while to get into, it wasn’t until page 119 that I noticed myself pulled completely into the narrative. That being said, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in China’s history and culture.Rating: 3/5Genre: Historical Fiction flag 1 like · Like  · see review May 30, 2022 Judy G rated it it was ok This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I have resd 78 pages and that is enough for this book to be returned tomw to SFP library and it wont b too soon for me, book is. Back in library. I had to click read for it to disappear so i did.Why does a good writer like Vanessa Hua write about young chinese women in the time of Mao in China who blindly idolize a man who brings young women together to please men and really more him than his cadre to dance w men and accept Rape? And this good writer is herself chinese May or may not have lived I have resd 78 pages and that is enough for this book to be returned tomw to SFP library and it wont b too soon for me, book is. Back in library. I had to click read for it to disappear so i did.Why does a good writer like Vanessa Hua write about young chinese women in the time of Mao in China who blindly idolize a man who brings young women together to please men and really more him than his cadre to dance w men and accept Rape? And this good writer is herself chinese May or may not have lived in China. To me this is wasted writing research and it is twisted as she herself created this young woman and the others like cruel Midnight Chang and their teacher Madame Fan who keeps them together and teaches them to be good girls w the men. The fictional Mei Xiang now almost 16 just raped and has contributed to suicide of another gurl in this “dance troupe” and she in this horrific fiction will become the sexual partner of Mao. And in the process she will turn against her own family. Has does a writer live w herself having created fr nothing this tale and im sure the circumstances will worsen and one day like magic this then in 1976 30y old woman will exit from Mao and china. And this writer will gift Mei w lessons learned. Mea Culpa for chinese woman who settles in San Francisco. Im so relieved to know i am able to see thru the cruelty of many writers i read who are sadly mostly women who take their own gifts to create something perverse sadistic knowing there r readers out there who devour this genre of current fiction writing. I could compile list of books of this gente all begun unfinished leaving me puzzled and sad that this genre this theme i have read again and again has its followingIm not yet a writet And i cannot grasp why someone w that Gift to write fiction chooses to create her character so young so besotted and self destructive…Judy g flag 1 like · Like  · see review May 15, 2022 Maddie O. rated it liked it I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley.There wasn’t anything I particularly disliked about this book, but I just didn’t connect to it. The characters were missing something, and the plot was fine but seemed to drag in places. Not a bad book by any means, I think it just wasn’t for me. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jun 05, 2022 Nicole rated it liked it Shelves: 2022 3.5 I was really enjoying the slow pace of this but it sort of lost me in the last third, it just kind of lost its voice. I do want to learn more about the Cultural Revolution now though. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Mar 17, 2022 Ellie rated it it was amazing Mao Sedong is never mentioned by name in this book, Forbidden City; he is only mentioned as the Chairman. The horror of Mao's cultural revolution which murdered more than 45 million people in China, is the background of this wonderfully researched and historically accurate novel. The main character of Mei Xiang is fictitious as many of the characters in the book are, but Mao is real. Vanessa Hua has written a harrowing account of what happened when a young peasant girl (in this case Mei was 15 y Mao Sedong is never mentioned by name in this book, Forbidden City; he is only mentioned as the Chairman. The horror of Mao's cultural revolution which murdered more than 45 million people in China, is the background of this wonderfully researched and historically accurate novel. The main character of Mei Xiang is fictitious as many of the characters in the book are, but Mao is real. Vanessa Hua has written a harrowing account of what happened when a young peasant girl (in this case Mei was 15 years old) was taken to please the Chairman! I couldn't put the book down. Mei is a true hero! and a source of inspiration, even for todays' world. Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House Publishing, for the epub, and especially to author Vanessa Hua for her brilliant story!! flag 1 like · Like  · see review Jun 09, 2022 Paul rated it really liked it So, I'm not sure I was planning on reading this book, although I do read Ms. Hua's column in the Chronicle. But I walked into the West Portal Library, and there was a stack of these on display with the sign "Lucky Day - you can check out this book today", so I did. It was an interesting take on a portion of Mao's life just as the Cultural Revolution is beginning. Very interesting reading. So, I'm not sure I was planning on reading this book, although I do read Ms. Hua's column in the Chronicle. But I walked into the West Portal Library, and there was a stack of these on display with the sign "Lucky Day - you can check out this book today", so I did. It was an interesting take on a portion of Mao's life just as the Cultural Revolution is beginning. Very interesting reading. flag 1 like · Like  · see review May 30, 2022 Laurence A. rated it did not like it I got this book from the library mainly on excellent reviews and on my interest of the time period in China. I'm not going to say much other than the fact that I can't imagine what had motivated the glowing reviews. This book is terrible. It's poorly plotted and the narrative is wooden. Maybe it's supposed to reflect the way a 16-year-old peasant Chinese girl would tell the story, but that in itself sells 16-year-old peasant Chinese girls short.By page 40, when I put the book down, young Mei had I got this book from the library mainly on excellent reviews and on my interest of the time period in China. I'm not going to say much other than the fact that I can't imagine what had motivated the glowing reviews. This book is terrible. It's poorly plotted and the narrative is wooden. Maybe it's supposed to reflect the way a 16-year-old peasant Chinese girl would tell the story, but that in itself sells 16-year-old peasant Chinese girls short.By page 40, when I put the book down, young Mei had black-mailed the local party chief, shown up in Beijing, and after less than a day's worth of dance training, was selected by The Chairman for his private suite, and raped.I mean, really, if you're going to have Chairman Mao rape the girl, at least build up a little suspense to the act. I've read a number of great historical novels so far this year, including two set in ex-Communist societies. Don't waste your time one this one; instead read Lea Ypi's "Free: A Child And A Country At The End of History" or, if you're up to it, Olga Tokarczuk's "The Books of Jacob." flag 1 like · Like  · see review Feb 20, 2022 Jennifer rated it liked it A thoughtful and meticulously-researched piece of historical fiction from which I learned a lot. However, the story fell a little flat for me as it progressed.First, the strengths... I love the idea of creating this character Mei as a stand in for the many young girls that have served in this capacity for powerful male leaders for centuries. I loved that Mei both bought the party programming, but also was able to acknowledge, (perhaps only in looking back on her life) the reality of the situatio A thoughtful and meticulously-researched piece of historical fiction from which I learned a lot. However, the story fell a little flat for me as it progressed.First, the strengths... I love the idea of creating this character Mei as a stand in for the many young girls that have served in this capacity for powerful male leaders for centuries. I loved that Mei both bought the party programming, but also was able to acknowledge, (perhaps only in looking back on her life) the reality of the situation she was in. For instance, the Chairman was both a great thinker and a charismatic man, AND a fat, old man with mental health issues who raped her on sight. (Yeah, trigger warning on that opening sex scene.)The book does not shy away from this duality, and also creates space for Mei to have big dreams of her own as well as the same ordinary concerns as any other teenage girl, (for instance, her constant battles with Midnight Chang, "a mean girl" before the term was even invented!) It is understandable that being so close to all that power made Mei believe that some would be allotted to her too, even though you can see on some level that she (rightly so) has her doubts. I think for me, the book felt really solid up through Mei's role in fooling the President. Then, the book just seemed a little aimless to me. The Cultural Revolution kicks into high gear, but the Chairman and Mei spend much of it away from the city. Mei tries to find ways to ride the movement to fame, while also continuing to obsess over Midnight Chang. All of it felt a little petty-like the worst inclination of a teen girl, to be totally self-obsessed about how it all impacted HER during a time of national crisis and uprising. I think the problem with this later half of the book is that Mei's lens felt a little TOO narrow for me. There is a lot happening in the country, but our view of it, the country's feelings about it, The Chairman's role in it, all of it is reduced to Mei's shallow perspective. This was an artistic choice that respected of the narrator of the story, but perhaps less so the reader. Thanks to the author and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. flag 1 like · Like  · see review Feb 23, 2022 Audrey rated it really liked it Shelves: first-reads Mei Xiang, a patriotic teenage girl, growing up in the newly Communist China, has dreams and aspirations fall above her station, especially given her gender and status. She finds a way out of her village to join Mao's personal dance troupe. While there, Mao seduces her and begins to trust her. While Mei gets wrapped up in duty and country, she begins to see that the utopia is not what it seems. And, soon it becomes what it's always been, Mei has to find a way to survive. Meticulously researched Mei Xiang, a patriotic teenage girl, growing up in the newly Communist China, has dreams and aspirations fall above her station, especially given her gender and status. She finds a way out of her village to join Mao's personal dance troupe. While there, Mao seduces her and begins to trust her. While Mei gets wrapped up in duty and country, she begins to see that the utopia is not what it seems. And, soon it becomes what it's always been, Mei has to find a way to survive. Meticulously researched yet effortlessly told, Forbidden City depicts the forgotten voices who only seek to strive and survive during a brutal time in China's history.I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own. flag 1 like · Like  · see review May 31, 2022 Elizabeth Gorodezki rated it liked it Shelves: giveaways I really wanted to like Forbidden City, but...😂🤦‍♀️🤷‍♀️ Seriously though... the premise sounded just SOOO fascinating. Mei Xiang is a 16 year old peasant girl in 1960s China, who is summoned to Lake Palace in Beijing to perform some mysterious "duties". Mei was born in communist China, and grew up during the brutal Great Leap Forward period. All she knew in her stort life was hunger, and the non questionable devotion to the Party and Chairman Mao. When the opportunity arises to leave her impover I really wanted to like Forbidden City, but...😂🤦‍♀️🤷‍♀️ Seriously though... the premise sounded just SOOO fascinating. Mei Xiang is a 16 year old peasant girl in 1960s China, who is summoned to Lake Palace in Beijing to perform some mysterious "duties". Mei was born in communist China, and grew up during the brutal Great Leap Forward period. All she knew in her stort life was hunger, and the non questionable devotion to the Party and Chairman Mao. When the opportunity arises to leave her impoverished village and contribute to "the revolution", naturally she jumps on it. Soon she learns that the "duties" of the recruits (teenage girls not unlike herself) mostly include dancing with the Party elites at the parties organized when the Chairman is in town. Well, dancing and other things...you know...Here the novel turns into your typical YA all of a sudden: there is a rivery, a mean girl, a good friend, a "weak" girl who inevitably falls prey to the bully etc, etc... Eventually Mei prevails, and "scores big", as in "attracts the Chairman's attention". She becomes his lover, and a confidant and eventually distances herself from the rest of the girls. Mei becomes involved in China's Cultural Revolution - one of the most brutal and turbulent periods in the modern Chinese history. She jumps onto her political assignments with fervor, but after a while a realization dawns on her that not all is as it seems. That's when the second part of her journey begins: away from the Chairman and the communist China, and onto a slow and painful discovery of the rest of the world, and especially of herself. Sounds fascinating isn't it? Unfortunately, for me the execution did not leave up to the expectations. First, let me be clear, if an idea of a 16 year old having sex with a 70 year old Mao makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit - then perhaps this book is not for you. Yep, you heard me, there are plenty of sex scenes and Hua is not witholding any details...💁 I do not consider myself too squimish when it comes to the descriptions of the wierd sex, but let me tell you...I cringed more than once while reading Forbidden City. What's even more disturbing is that the novel is loosely based on the real events. So, in fact, there were the girls, and the dance parties, and Mao did "take them to his bedchambers'' , soo you know....yeah 😖Second, well to be honest, I did not buy into Mei's character development. I grew up in one of the former USSR republics, and while during my childhood it wasn't nearly as extreme there as in China during "The Great Leap Forward" or "The Cultural Revolution", even I met some people who "bought into" the ideology wholeheartedly. The type of the insight that Mei seems to be capable of even before her "awakening", well, I just do not find it realistic at all...💁 Not because a peasant girl cannot be smart, of course she can be, there are plenty of examples of that in the history. It's just that she knew NOTHING ELSE. And cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing. Once you convince yourself that Mao is a GOD and nothing wrong could ever come out of his mouth, changing your own mind is, well, next to impossible. Even watching your friends and family die from hunger is probably not going to convince you of Mao's wrongdoing. You will just tell yourself that their deaths served a higher purpose etc, etc. Also being smart and all, Mei's actions towards the end of the novel just seemed a bit too impulsive and careless. I'd expect her "rebelion" to be a bit more nuanced and calculated. An "insider" type of thing, a political intrigue perhaps. More plotting, less irrational behaviour such as shouting to the crazed masses? Seriously, if she was smart enough to break the "Chairman spell" that all of China was under, she should have been smart enough not to do things that would get her AND like all of her family almost inevitably killed...In any case, I feel really bad, because I know that it took the author 14 years to research and write this novel. But, unfortunately, I felt a tad too distracted by constantly pointing out (to myself mind you 😜 ) all the inconsistencies of Mei's behaviour in the book.Still, Forbidden City is a fascinating read, and Vanessa Hua deserves applause for writing such a unique novel, AND for such a detailed portrayal of one of the world's most powerful leaders, of whom we (let's be honest) know close to nothing here in the US. I sure learned a lot about the history of the communist China, and I googled quite a bit while reading Forbidden City. As always I am grateful for the learning opportunities that reading fiction provides. Thank you Ballantine Books, Goodreads and the author for the gifted ARC flag Like  · see review « previous 1 2 3 next »

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