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Chasing Hepburn: A Memoir of Shanghai, Hollywood, and a Chinese Family's Fight for Freedom Paperback – January 27, 2004

5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lee, author of four autobiographical novels (China Boy; Honor and Duty; etc.) opens his first nonfiction work with the distressing story of his mother Da-tsien's foot-binding in 1909 China. The women about to break the child's toes whisper terms of endearment. Suddenly, as often happens in this rewarding, ambitious memoir, a dramatic turn pushes Da-tsien's life in an unexpected direction: she's rescued. Her father, who can't bear her screams and has been influenced by foreign books, puts an end to the ritual. Lee writes that he assembled the "fractured clan stories" he was raised on to produce this family history, and although a sheaf of letters from his deceased father helped, he found it necessary to create "bridges" with "imagined details." In this respect, his experience as a novelist helps, and his writing is a constant pleasure of vibrant detail and effective dialogue, from his retelling of his parents' interactions with underworld gangsters in 1920s Shanghai to his depiction of their enthrallment with Katharine Hepburn, which eventually leads them to America. Lee's most remarkable skills, however, are his ability to deftly move between the personalities of his family tree and the family's intimate moments, and his observations of Chinese cultural history. When, for example, his grandmother fears Da-tsien's unbound feet will bring destruction upon the family, Lee so carefully explains the social forces pressing down on her that, although relieved for his mother, readers will find themselves worrying along with his grandmother. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In his first nonfiction book, novelist Lee (China Boy) writes a lively memoir that centers on the life of his family in Shanghai during the Chinese civil war. Lee's parents, T.C. Lee and Da-Tsien Tzu, broke with Chinese tradition and arranged their own marriage. In their courting years, watching first-run movies in Shanghai in the early 1930s, they were attracted to strong-willed actress Katharine Hepburn and recognized each other's determination to be independent. T.C. Lee, a hyperactive person who chose a mobile career in the Chinese military and befriended the wealthy T.A. Soong, met Hepburn and became romantically involved with other American actresses in Hollywood. In the meantime, while raising their children and still living with her in-laws and parents in China, Da-Tsien Tzu became devoted to Western Christianity and eventually "walked across China" during the Japanese occupation with three of her children to reunite with her husband in California in the 1940s. Lee reveals how his parents struggled to mesh American and Chinese images and values. Recommended for large public libraries.
Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Library of Congress
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (January 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140005155X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400051557
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,059,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By P. Johnson on February 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this remarkable memoir, Gus Lee presents a clear and compassionate picture of his parents, grandparents and their 'clans' set in turbulent times. He brings alive the social, historical, religious and cultural context which informs their actions and reactions making them comprehensible to a reader with a totally different cultural viewpoint. It reads like a multi-generational adventure novel where the characters play parts in or are impacted by major events, from the Taiping rebellion through the British opium trade to the civil wars that raged from the early twentieth century through the brutal Japanese occupation in WWII. It is a wild ride and a great read. Gus presents his forbears and related characters warts and all, but always with great compassion and subtlety. There are no cardboard characters. Readers of his novels, which have a strong autobiographical base, particularly 'China Boy', will know what a hard childhood he endured with a stern and distant father, a mother prone to 'magical' beliefs who died when he was five, and a rigid, vindictive step mother. In this memoir, Gus reveals to us what he subsequently discovered about his parents and he honors them both. Gus's own life has been a testament to using adversity to build strength. He has wasted no time blaming, or scoring points off his parents or using his experiences to excuse failings in his own life. There is no 'poor me' here. His story helped me understand a completely different belief system and cultural perspective. And it was at times moving, at other times funny, but always interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Get ready to give up your weekend because once you pick up this book you won't be able to put it down. Lee's dramatic descriptions cover the conflicts between historical Eastern and Western traditions woven into poignant family events. While his relatives and their antics seem quirky and particular, in fact they resonate with all families facing abrupt changes and adaptation --be they generational or cultural. For those who have read and loved China Boy and Honor and Duty, Chasing Hepburn gives us the pre-story we've all been wondering about.
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Format: Hardcover
Get ready to give up your weekend because once you pick up this book you won't be able to put it down. Lee's dramatic descriptions cover the conflicts between historical Eastern and Western traditions woven into poignant family events. While his relatives and their antics seem quirky and particular, in fact they resonate with all families facing abrupt changes and adaptation --be they generational or cultural. For those who have read and loved China Boy and Honor and Duty, Chasing Hepburn gives us the pre-story we've all been wondering about.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
About two thirds through this book that amazed and taught me so much about the 20th century civil war and liberation of China, I realized I was reading something akin to the book that 40 years ago showed me one of the awesome values of great fiction. Gus Lee describes Chasing Hepburn as his first work of non-fiction, but the book has the magic of fiction (and surely takes its liberties), and like Tolstoi's War and Peace it shows us an immense historical moment through the eyes and hearts of a few families. With strange but compassionate humor, Lee shows a family whose allegiance and survival lies with Chiang Kai Shek but whose heart is really with Mao Tse Tung. As Tolstoi mined a great wealth of family and historical lore to write his book, so Lee mined the memories of his sisters, others, and especially his father, a Kuomintang pilot, adventurer, secret agent, banker's henchman, and all-around outrageous character whose lifelong lament seems to be, "If only those stupid generals had let me go drop a bomb on Mao!" while at the same time knowing firsthand what a backstabbing, bloodthirsty lot the nationalist leaders really were after the death of Sun Yat Sen. Whoa. I'm getting way too carried away with how much I liked and learned from this book! As for the title, the book does surely earn Chasing Hepburn, but it's so much more than the tale of Hollywood-struck young Chinese in Shanghai in the 1920s-1930s. It's love story, epic, thriller, and wide scope portrait of the complex, fascinating time when China's neck was under the whole world's boot.Take Me With You When You Go
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Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. Highly recommended to all who are interested in Chinese culture and history.
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