Picks and Pans Review: Becoming Madame Mao

updated 07/03/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/03/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Anchee Min

In her bestselling 1994 memoir Red Azalea, Min recounts being plucked from a work farm in China to star in one of Madame Mao's propaganda films. In this extraordinary new fictionalized biography, Min, 43, who now lives in California with her 7-year-old daughter, traces the life of her former boss. History has both demonized and ignored the woman who started out as the rebellious daughter of a concubine, became an actress, seduced Mao Zedong and then rose to power as a lethal force in Chinese politics. But with operatic grace, Min portrays Madame Mao as a vindictive powermonger whose apparent heartlessness is countered by a craving for love, which proves her downfall. (She died in jail in 1991.) "My nature refuses to live an invisible life," she says. Min lets her be seen as never before. (Houghton Mifflin, $25)

Bottom Line: Riveting novel

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