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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611090776
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611090772
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (335 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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".

Customer Reviews

I enjoyed reading this book as I listened to Bach.
perla guevara
This book is more than an autobiography; it's a moving story of the human spirit prevailing over incredible odds.
John Williamson
I would really recommend you to do that after/before reading the book.
saabista

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Historken on March 22, 2012
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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72 of 73 people found the following review helpful By oleander on 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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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By John Williamson TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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.
Read more ›
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Readz Alot VINE VOICE on 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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