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‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ has become a favourite of mine and I read it again between Christmas and New Year — well listened to the audiobook compliments of the online library (an adjunct service from my local library in Australia). This is the first time I have reviewed the book.
The story begins in China — a small boy living in poverty alongside his 6 brothers and kind, hardworking parents. Indoctrinated into Mao’s communist regime (and having absolutely no exposure to western society and creative culture), he cannot imagine what is in store for him when a group of party officials turn up at his school one day looking for recruits into Madam Mao’s Ballet Academy. Cunxin finds himself one of only 40 children chosen from millions and quickly relocated away from his family in the faraway capital of Beijing.
When he first arrives at the dance academy he doesn’t even know what ballet is (he’s been selected for his physique, flexibility, and family profile as peasants but loyal to the party). He’s dreadfully homesick and out-of-place away from his home province. The book takes us through his transformation as uneducated peasant boy; to a hardworking student, to one of the world’s most gifted male dancers. Plus it details his defection from China to America.
Apart from the obvious rags-to-riches appeal of the story, the real magic of the book lies in the smaller details of his simple life with his family. His mother’s dumplings, collecting burned coal from an abandoned airstrip, buying a piece of pork, the excitement of Chinese New Year. Li Cunxin also takes the time to detail his first experiences with fruit, ATM machines, western clothes and the endearing innocence of his parents when they finally visit him in America.
The book has another layer also. It’s a story of incredible perserverence, self-discipline and success. It’s a worthy manual for any success practitioner already immersed in the canon of ‘Think and Grow Rich’ and ‘Law of Attraction’ style volumes. Li Cunxin demonstrates the transformative effect of self-belief, the importance of having a mentor, the power of visualisation (he inscribed the words ‘FLY’ under each of his ballet shoes), and the necessity of hard work alongside consistent habits.
So for me it’s 5 stars. It’s a great story, it’s well written, it’s an effortless read, and it’s a practical handbook for success. I loved it.
Now if only he would write the sequel.