Li Cunxin’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” … a book review

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao’s Last Dancer

“Mao’s Last Dancer” tells the story of Li Cunxin, a poor peasant boy who was to become a great dancer. The story focuses on the development of Cunxin from a boy whom knows nothing of ballet through to great success. We also read of the learning of the political ideology of Mao and the effect it had on the Chinese people during the cultural revolution. The political agenda and the search for dancing prowess collide and eventually Cunxin must decide between the two, a decision that comes to a head after visiting the USA which called into question his entire belief in all his learning about the world and the merits of the chinese political system.

Like “The Hunger Games” I came to this book after viewing the movie. I felt the movie was good but focussed on Cunxin’s life out of China heavily. I wanted to get a stronger sense of Cunxin’s developmental years in China. The book delivered that in spades.

I really enjoyed learning about Cunxin’s early years growing up in the commune. This gave me a real sense of what he was about and how much he was connected to his family. It also helped with understanding the distress when he was removed from the family unit and put into a dance boarding school. The culture shock would have been immense for the young Cunxin.

It is always a voyage of discovery for a young child to discover what they want to do with their life. For Cunxin that discovery was enforced, he would be a dancer. So the portrayal of the struggle about why he should dance and that he indeed would enjoy dance was a wonderful read.

The political overtones were also a necessary requirement. The description of the amount of learning the children were subjected to gives a real sense as to why the community of the time seemed to really love their leader. His regime had a way of manipulating often innocent words to reflect whatever they wanted. Interestingly this extended to former beloved Chinese leaders such as Confuscious, and not just foreign influences. The focus on the punishments also gave the idea that the state was repressed. This provided the perfect backdrop for the eventual discovery of the freedoms offered by western societies and the merits to struggle to earn them.

I loved the book immensely, even more so than the film. I will be watching the film shortly once more. The next book I am to read is Andy McNab’s “The Russian”, a book tied in with the Battlefield 3 game.

My rating:

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

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