Katherine

Katherine

by Anchee Min
     
 

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An American woman comes to China to teach English just as that country opens its doors, six years after the deal of Chairman Mao. Her clothes, her hair, her charm - the stories she tells of an American childhood, the lessons in casual conversation and pop music - awaken in the men and women she tutors a yearning for the tantalizing West and an unknowable eroticism.…  See more details below

Overview

An American woman comes to China to teach English just as that country opens its doors, six years after the deal of Chairman Mao. Her clothes, her hair, her charm - the stories she tells of an American childhood, the lessons in casual conversation and pop music - awaken in the men and women she tutors a yearning for the tantalizing West and an unknowable eroticism. She is a witting and unwitting seductress who cannot conceive that when she enters into a love triangle with two of her students - one male, one female - its consequences will be insidious and inexorably tragic. In Katherine, Min writes of the clash of centuries-old mystical traditions and modern American ways, of love and betrayal, and of both the balm and destruction obsession offers. Anchee Min's fiction debut confirms her arrival as a writer of singular importance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Min's first novel is less successful on a number of fronts than her outstanding memoir, Red Azalea. Narrated by a 29-year-old Chinese woman named Zebra whose family is poor and disgraced in the eyes of the Party, the story line traces the upheavals sparked by the appearance in the wake of the Cultural Revolution of a vibrant American teacher of English. When, in 1982, Katherine first arrives at the East Sea Foreign Language Institute in Shanghai, Zebra is a hardened veteran of the crushing Chinese system. Becoming Katherine's friend and prized pupil holds a dangerous allure for her: ``Katherine. We enjoyed saying it. We liked to think that her name smelled of hot blood. We liked to imagine everything that came with the name. A story of the western world.'' Katherine meets Zebra's expectations, teaching her not only English but also the finer points of the Beatles, makeup and illicit affairs. Zebra is not the only one who finds the American compelling, however. So does a fellow student, who has the unlikely name of Lion Head and who is mixed up in political games involving the head of the Institute. Despite Zebra's multiple warnings, Katherine blunders into an unseemly incident in which the demands of the state trample the desires of the individual. One of Red Azalea's most enjoyable attributes was the tension created by the presence of a charged sensuality amid the gray uniformity of Communist China. This novel also possesses sensuality, primarily through the freewheeling Katherine, but it seems forced. The characters lack the tight focus of those in Min's memoir, as well. Zebra, for instance, can be guarded and provincial in one paragraph and then reel off a philosophical jag about identity in the next. The writing, despite its lyrical moments, is also off key-particularly during the novel's rushed and unfortunate climax. Author tour. (May)
Library Journal
Min's first novel is set in China, but at its heart is a magnetic and willful young American woman named Katherine, with auburn hair, catlike eyes, and a gorgeous body-``a combination of beauty and cruelty.'' Katherine teaches English at the university in Shanghai, and among her students is Zebra, a ruined product of the Cultural Revolution. Zebra poignantly relates the devastating impact Katherine has on her students, who are enthralled by her air of freedom and her not-to-subtle sexuality. But as she goes about trying to do good, Katherine is also breathtakingly naive about the stumbling blocks her students face. As Zebra tartly tells her, ``You better sing our song since you are climbing our mountain.'' Min, the author of last year's Red Azalea (LJ 12/93), an account of her rough upbringing in China, has written a little dewdrop of a work that is lyrical, to-the-point, and occasionally marred by writing that seems annoyingly childish but perhaps should be acknowledged as echoing the voice of a young woman painfully finding her way out of a terrible historical experiment. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/95.]-Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Donna Seaman
in's memoir, "Red Azalea" , a harrowing account of life during China's insanely brutal Cultural Revolution, was hailed as a masterpiece in the U.S. but banned in China. Undaunted, Min continues her fight to keep the truth alive in another joltingly honest book, her first novel, an arresting tale of tyranny, deprivation, culture shock, eroticism, spiritual awakening, and courage. Zebra Wong, a 29 year-old woman who lost her youth and much heart while slaving for eight wretched years in a labor camp, has been sent back to her home in Shanghai to work in a factory and learn English. Her teacher transforms her life. Katherine, a glamorous and confident American, enchants her students with her sleek body, red lipstick, irrepressible laughter, and distressing naivete. Zebra, a woman of strong resolve and no sentimentality, studies this Western goddess in awe, envy, and anger. As Min deftly portrays Zebra and Katherine's struggle to weave a bridge of friendship across the great cultural divide, she reveals the fundamental differences in their psyches and dramatizes the soul-chilling consequences of China's diabolical self-hatred and habits of repression and torture.
From the Publisher
Searing, uncompromising prose. -Harper's Bazaar

Joltingly honest...and arresting tale of tyranny, deprivation, culture shock, eroticism, spirituality awakening and courage. -Booklist

Superb writing...Katherine explores the complex hungers of human soul caught up in the whirlwind of epic-making events. -San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

The story changes forward with its own energy. But with Min, there is a second reward-her eloquent, passionate writing. -Detroit Free Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425152911
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
05/01/1996
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
287
Product dimensions:
4.24(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.81(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Searing, uncompromising prose. -Harper's Bazaar

Joltingly honest...and arresting tale of tyranny, deprivation, culture shock, eroticism, spirituality awakening and courage. -Booklist

Superb writing...Katherine explores the complex hungers of human soul caught up in the whirlwind of epic-making events. -San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

The story changes forward with its own energy. But with Min, there is a second reward-her eloquent, passionate writing. -Detroit Free Press

Meet the Author

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen, she was sent to a labor collective, where talent scouts discovered her and recruited her to work as an actress. She came to the U.S. in 1984 with the help of the actress Joan Chen. A painter, photographer, and musician, she lives in Los Angeles and Shanghai with her husband and daughter.

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