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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 (397 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
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Book 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.


Editorial Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • File Size: 451 KB
  • Print Length: 331 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1611090776
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (March 6, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0076PGFYW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,713 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
147 of 151 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I am not a musician nor have I played an instrument, however, that really didn't keep me from appreciating this powerful autobiography. The hardships that the Chinese endured during Mao's "Cultural Revolution" have never been so vividly recounted in any of the many books I've read on this human catastrophe. Her personal sacrifices profoundly illustrate the cruelty of Mao's madness. Despite excruciating circumstances she was able to get her family's piano transported to her work camp and scrounged for scores to play surreptitiously.

I was so moved by her description of her beloved Goldberg Variations that I downloaded her first CD. I find it truly inspiring. I wish I could directly communicate my admiration and appreciation for her courage and the music she has left us. This book provided me with considerable insight into her extraordinary life, and I am grateful for her fascinating autobiography.
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75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving account. March 20, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
This memoir is beautifully written, especially it's passages on music. Whilst reflecting on her experiences of the atrocities entailed by the cultural revolution under Mao, the author keeps her account informative but refrains from graphic descriptions beyond the requirements necessary for understanding. Instead, she makes music the ever-present centre-piece of her autobiography, at times delving into the philosophical and psychological aspects of art, often referring to the teachings of Laozi. She explores the existential meaning of music that has helped her to keep her sanity under the communist regime and during its aftermath. In the latter part of her book she continues to return to explore the soothing impacts of Bach's compositions, especially the Goldberg Variations.
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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Piano: Zhu Xiao-Mei's Aria April 16, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
When one first thinks of pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei, those familiar with her works immediately jump to her exceptional interpretations and performances of J.S. Bach and the Goldberg Variations. Finding her autobiography, The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations, was a pleasant surprise, yet autobiographies like this can sometimes be a disappointment to the reader. Happily this was not the case, as the author has presented her life in an interesting and fascinating chronological format, one that expresses the emotions that she felt along the way.

Born in Shanghai into a creative middle-class family during those turbulent years following WW-II, her family moved to Beijing when she was very young. Her first encounter with the instrument that was to shape her life is movingly remembered in her own words:

"I didn't know what it was, a piano. I was barely three years old, and I had never seen anything like it. I was fascinated. I wondered where it had come from, this object that spoke when you touched it. Strangely, my mother never played the piano. But every morning, she dusted it: her first act of housework. `Such dust! In Shanghai, there wasn't so much dust. Why did you bring me here?' she would add, turning towards my father."

And that curiosity sets the pace for this book in which she takes us on a journey in which we witness first hand a side that is usually veiled to most Westerners. Learning the piano during those young years, she was a prodigy who played the piano in radio and television in Beijing when she was only eight, and at ten, she entered into the Beijing Conservatory of Music in a program for unusually gifted children.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better pianist than author October 23, 2012
Format:Paperback
The basic story here is indeed moving and powerful -- talented pianist growing up in communist China finds her education derailed by the cultural revolution. After 5 years in various labor camps, she is finally able to leave China and emigrate to the U.S., where she completes her music education, moves to France and becomes a musician of great renown.

The problem is, that much in the narrative is jumpy or poorly explained. I'm not saying that she's lying but, like another reviewer I would LOVE to know how she smuggled a piano into a labor camp (a camp clearly stated to be 'a prison') .. and then journeyed to dozens of near-by wire factories (how convenient!) to replace the broken strings. And how the piano stayed even remotely in tune.

She writes about her mother being diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live ... but her mother is still alive several decades later.

She writes about how she struggled for admission to university in China, and then never mentions anything about her time there except that she was able to meet some Chinese intellectuals. It isnt' even clear that she attended the university.

She writes about how she moved to the U.S. to attend music school in California, then changes her mind and attends in Boston, but makes no mention of how she filled the 9 months in between, and how she supported herself after quitting her first job, or what she had to do to get her scholarship.

She writes about her 'marriage of convenience' to a man who was presumably, but never stated in so-many-words as being in a gay relationship -- and then her husband is never mentioned again. (Did this 'marriage' cause her NO difficulties when she applied for a French visa and then French citizenship?)

She writes about being diagnosed with cancer and refusing chemo -- but a few pages later she is recovered.

An editor to help smooth out these awkward sections would have been very welcome.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The hardships of just existing during that time in work ...
The hardships of just existing during that time in work camps is hard to read but still a celebration of her spirit.
Published 8 days ago by Jo Ann Ely
5.0 out of 5 stars Delight for musicians
I listened to the audio version and thouroughly enjoyed it.....so much so that I purchased the Bach Goldberg Variations and they had much more meaning because I knew the performer.
Published 10 days ago by Sarah Brownell
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written!
I absolutely loved this book! What an amazing story about a revolution I knew nothing about. Not being a musician I did get slightly bogged down in one section. Read more
Published 12 days ago by LauraJJ
4.0 out of 5 stars The treatment of artists during the Cultural Revolution
It help me understand the Cultural Revolution in China. I admired her perseverance. I tried to get one of her albums of a concert.
I would love to meet her.
Published 25 days ago by Monk
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
You can't destroy the music in your heart. What a comeback after a childhood under Mao.
Published 26 days ago by orderly
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book
I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to learn about the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Mao from an artist who lived it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jody I Bowman
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a powerful book
I bought this book from audible.com and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had read much about the Cultural Revolution, but not a person's direct experience. Read more
Published 1 month ago by F. Bailey Norwood
4.0 out of 5 stars Paly it again, Zhu!
Being a musician, I cannot fathom what Zhu went through as a teenager! Her story is an inspiration for anyone! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Phyllis Relyea
5.0 out of 5 stars After reading this book I bought her recording of the Goldberg...
This book held my interest from start to finish. Zhu Xiao-Mei has written a thoughtful and sometimes gripping memoir. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Opal
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
The story line, geography interested me, but, the author dragged on a bit.
Published 1 month ago by Patricia
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More 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".

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