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The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations

The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations [Kindle Edition]

Zhu Xiao-Mei , Ellen Hinsey
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

Zhu Xiao-Mei was born to middle-class parents in post-war China, and her musical proficiency became clear at an early age. Taught to play the piano by her mother, she developed quickly into a prodigy, immersing herself in the work of classical masters like Bach and Brahms. She was just ten years old when she began a rigorous course of study at the Beijing Conservatory, laying the groundwork for what was sure to be an extraordinary career. But in 1966, when Xiao-Mei was seventeen, the Cultural Revolution began, and life as she knew it changed forever. One by one, her family members were scattered, sentenced to prison or labor camps. By 1969, the art schools had closed, and Xiao-Mei was on her way to a work camp in Mongolia, where she would spend the next five years. Life in the camp was nearly unbearable, thanks to horrific living conditions and intensive brainwashing campaigns. Yet through it all Xiao-Mei clung to her passion for music and her sense of humor. And when the Revolution ended, it was the piano that helped her to heal. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Secret Piano is the incredible true story of one woman’s survival in the face of unbelievable odds—and in pursuit of a powerful dream.

About the Author

Zhu Xiao-Mei was born in Shanghai, China. She began playing the piano when she was a young child, and by the age of eight was performing for Peking radio and television stations. She entered the Beijing Conservatory when she was ten years old, but her education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. After five years in a labor camp in Mongolia, she returned to China, before moving on to the United States and finally Paris, France, where she has lived and worked since 1984. She teaches at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique and has performed for audiences on six continents. She is one of the world’s most celebrated interpreters of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 451 KB
  • Print Length: 331 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1611090776
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (6 Mar 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0076PGFYW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #26,697 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving and illuminating 24 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is the autobiography of a talented girl living through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution as a young music student. A first-hand account such as this sheds important light on that period of China's history. So much for equality - the imagined sins of the fathers (and mothers) were very much visited on the sons (and daughters) in this period. The writer's parents were reckoned to have come from a somewhat bourgeois background, and this was held against her.

The description of the music conservatory degenerating under Mao's ideologies is chilling. First to a music institute where you had to be completely politically correct, then to a music school with no music, and finally to a music school with no music and no students. Here we have a first-hand description of what it was like in that period when as we know from history, talented professional people were taken from productive work and study and made to live in vile circumstances doing vile tasks. It is difficult to see that any benefit whatever came to the Chinese people though this. The writer's description is vivid. Later in the book she reflects on the period, and gives her opinion of Mao and his ideas and his refusal to admit any mistake.

The descriptions of the power of music as a rock in her life are moving, and music triumphs in the end, along with the writer's spirit.

Tribute must be paid to the translator for a "transparent" translation which, it seems to me, never intrudes between author and reader.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves... 6 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Having read accounts of other totalitarian countries such as Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea I was intrigued by this book and keen to learn more about China's period under Mao, and his 'Great Leap Forward'.

The first half of this book does that well - we learn what it was like to be swept up in the unstoppable tide of the Cultural Revolution; the labour camps, the public `self-criticism' and the other awful hardships that many had to suffer during this time. I found this half of the book fascinating.

However, the second half was less appealing. It follows the author's move to the US, and later France, and becomes an account of a struggling pianist, trying to make a life outside of her native country. There are long detailed passages about different classical pieces which didn't hold much interest for me and I found myself skimming over some of them. If you're a classical musician yourself, you'll probably get more out of this than I did.

If you're after insight into China's Cultural Revolution, this book is an interesting starting point - but be aware that only half of the book is actually about China.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to survive with a piano 15 Jun 2012
By Book fiend VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a quite remarkable story told by Chinese pianist Xiao Mei (unpronouncable as are most of the Chinese names encountered in the book). Xiao Mei's family was originally perhaps what we would call middle class living in reasonable conditions and sufficiently well-off to own a piano. Following the turmoil of WWII and the complicated politics of such a vast country, the Cultural Revolution began ultimately leading to Chairman Mao's rise and total control of the population. Xiao Mei lived through this unfortunate time, suffering greatly because her family's background was not proletarian enough. Although she began her musical life at the Conservatoire in Beijing her story reveals the gradual, and eventually complete, breakdown of educational life and social life during the Revolution with graphic descriptions of her experiences in labour camps and amongst people who were gradually being brainwashed to believe solely in Mao's way of life at the expense of common humanity. Some of her experiences are truly horrifying and it is in itself an education for us to understand what life was like in the 50's, 60's and even 70's in China - in our recent memories. It is something of a miracle that not only did her piano survive but that she herself eventually became what she set out to be, and without losing her sanity, although she herself clearly feels she was permananetly damaged by her being part of this appalling time. She is to be greatly admired for her courage and determination.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent example of perseverance 5 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For some individuals the road of life seems smooth and an endless party. For others it is littered with disappointment. Not everyone manages to withstand misfortunes in life and not many are able to pick themselves up when they fall on the floor. Ms Xiao-Mei provides evidence that the only place where success precedes work is only in a dictionary. Her story struck a chord with me. A wonderful touching story which leaves one wondering why some people have to suffer so much before reaching freedom.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Darren Simons TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is a translation from a book originally published in French describing the life of Zhu Xia-Mei. In it the author tells the story of her life to date and how the Cultural Revolution almost robbed the world of a fantastic pianist.

As a child Xiao-Mei studied music at a top Chinese music conservatory. However, the coming to power of Mao and the Cultural Revolution stops her studies in their tracks, and results in Xiao-Mei and her family being sent to separate labour camps across China. Here she is encouraged to undertake regular self-criticism and denunciate her family and peers. It is easy to feel a lack of sympathy for the fact that she did this, yet this is a child who has clearly been brainwashed. Thereafter Xiao-Mei moves to America and settles in France where she is finally able to live her dream. In this second part of the book Xiao-Mei reflects on all that was wrong with Mao's rule, asking perhaps the simplest question of all... Why? It is very well written and surprisingly detailed (despite this definitely not being a literary masterpiece).

The author's spiritual beliefs are touched upon, although I found it to be overly politically correct in avoiding any belief suggestion to the reader. In fact, I found the very style of the book the saddest thing of all. Personal relationships are not detailed at all (there is a little too much detail of the individual pieces of classical music she studied for my liking), and despite the continuous thanks for the kindness received throughout her journey, there is no indication of any kind of thanks given at the time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into life in China in Mao's regime
Excellent insight into life in China in Mao's regime. I cannot help but be inspired by the devotion and persistence needed to achieve high standards in learning and performing on... Read more
Published 20 hours ago by Pat Herman
4.0 out of 5 stars A very touching story of one persons struggle to attain ...
A very touching story of one persons struggle to attain freedom and endurance through their music. A spiritually uplifting journey.
Published 5 days ago by stella gledhill
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story
Fascinating story, well put together but in places can be rather difficult for the reader who does not have a deep knowledge of musical techniques and interpretation
Published 5 days ago by Mary Ena
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant story .well worth reading
Published 7 days ago by elizabeth bailey
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful account of the incredible madness that was Mao's China
Though I suspect the language looses something of its subtly/complexity in translation, this is an excellent read - the true, yet barely credible account of a talented young woman... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Patricia Reilly
4.0 out of 5 stars and amazing how one man (Mao) can turn a whole nation ...
Interesting context. If you were a musician or piano player you might give the book five stars. Incredible how the author stuck to her piano through thick and thin, and amazing how... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Millie P
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great read
Published 8 days ago by Christine H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very moving and conjures up the conflicts of the time poignantly.
Published 11 days ago by Lorraine
5.0 out of 5 stars For everyone wanting to know more about China during the ...
For everyone wanting to know more about China during the Mao era. It is astonishing, and so hard believe that people can be treated so badly. There is real courage too.
Published 14 days ago by Anne M R Willett
5.0 out of 5 stars Candid and inspiring, a memorable personal, political and ...
Candid and inspiring, a memorable personal, political and cultural story. A fascinating insight into the turmoil in China during those years.
Published 17 days ago by L. J. McQuillin
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