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The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations | [Zhu Xiao-Mei]

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

Zhu Xiao-Mei was three years old when she saw her first piano. Soon after, the child began to play, developing quickly into a prodigy who immersed herself in the work of such classical masters as Bach and Brahms. Her astonishing proficiency earned her a spot at the Beijing Conservatory at the tender age of 11, where she began laying the foundation for a promising career as a concert pianist. But in 1966, with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, life as she knew it ended abruptly.
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Publisher's Summary

Zhu Xiao-Mei was three years old when she saw her first piano, a cherished instrument introduced into her family’s Beijing home by her mother. Soon after, the child began to play, developing quickly into a prodigy who immersed herself in the work of such classical masters as Bach and Brahms. Her astonishing proficiency earned her a spot at the Beijing Conservatory at the tender age of 11, where she began laying the foundation for a promising career as a concert pianist. But in 1966, with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, life as she knew it ended abruptly.

The Communist Party’s campaign against culture forced the closure of art schools and resulted in the deportation of countless Chinese, including Xiao-Mei and her entire family. She spent five years in a work camp in Inner Mongolia, suffering under abysmal living conditions and a brutal brainwashing campaign. Yet through it all, Xiao-Mei kept her dream alive, drawing on the power of music to sustain her courage.

©2012 Zhu Xiao-Mei (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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  •  
    Irene United States 01-29-13
    Irene United States 01-29-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "Hard to Put This Book Down"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Secret Piano to be better than the print version?

    Yes, the narration was so life like. I was actually reading along as the narrative flowed with each word. It was like sitting with the author as she told her story. I could never have pronounced all the Chinese words and I didn't have to. Nancy Wu's wonderful and expressive narration brought the story to life for me.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Obviously the author, Zhu Xiao-Mei, was my favorite as the story was about her own life. She is a person I can relate to. I am a musician also.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The scene that grabbed me from the start was the first one told of three year old Zhu Xiao-Mei seeing a piano for the very first time. I recall my first time too. It's something you never forget.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    More than any other reaction to the book, I was reminded of my own childhood safely in a free America while others my own age suffered greatly on the other side of the world. I'd never really thought too much about what other people have overcome in their lives to achieve their dreams until I read this book.


    Any additional comments?

    If you're discouraged and thinking of quitting, read this book. It will inspire you to keep on trying and never give up.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cristina Nokomis, Florida, United States 11-29-12
    Cristina Nokomis, Florida, United States 11-29-12
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    "Great Story, Awful Reader"
    If you could sum up The Secret Piano in three words, what would they be?

    Independent human spirit.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Zhu Xiao-Mei's story is highly interesting and sad. She lived through the Cultural Revolution as a music conservatory student. Her conservatory was shut down by the Maoist regime, first by burning all of the music scores, then by humiliation and violence toward the professors and students (and using the conservatory as a mass grave to store bodies), then by sending the students to labor camps to "reeducate" them. The fact that music wasn't allowed in China yet she still managed to become a concert pianist in France and the United States is inspiring. Besides her background, I most enjoyed her musical philosophizing wherein she recounted things her professors had taught her, what she learned from personal practice, and what it was like having a passion for music and not being allowed to play it. This is definitely a book a musician can pick up and be VERY inspired (comes with a jargon warning label for the non-musician, though).


    Would you listen to another book narrated by Nancy Wu?

    No—at least not one that contains musical jargon or recounts stories death and oppression. She would be a good reader of children's books, but sometimes read very dark parts in the book with a giddy excitement that confused me. Some musical words she mispronounced were Bach, opus (she said "op" instead of "opus"!), scherzo, Mozart, pianist (!!!) (I know that one's debatable, but musicians I think only pronounce it one way: pi-AN-ist), and about 3 or 4 others. Because these are everyday words for me, I found her chronic musical mispronunciations so annoying that I began reading the book on Kindle instead. And as I mentioned, she read the scenes about the devastation the Cultural Revolution caused under communist dictator Mao Zedong as if she were reading "Pippi Longstocking" to a child, so that was annoying too. Her biggest plus was her Chinese pronunciation, which was very helpful to me because I know nothing about it and would have otherwise been lost.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Although it did not make me cry, it inspired me to think more about music's role in being an expression of the independent human spirit. When a regime attacks music, art, and literature, there's something about those things that they want to prevent. People bent on control know that in order to have people wrapped around their fingers, they need to eliminate expression. It's part of their attempt to kill the soul. Passion for these things, however, can't die. That makes musicians, artists and writers (even if they're just little kids) dangerous to despots.


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommended book!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vira Pretoria, South Africa 03-07-13
    Vira Pretoria, South Africa 03-07-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Music, Philosophy, and Life"

    An interesting book, which provided me with an insight into the Communist regime in China, which I had not previously had. The parts about music were so touchingly passionate, humble, and sincere, almost reverential towards the end, that I often sat with tears in my eyes.

    I did think, though, that I would've been able to appreciate it more, had I had a greater knowledge of classical music, theory, and composers.

    I enjoyed the religious/philosophical comparisons, and especially the sayings of Lao Tzu and Taoism.

    The narrator was really easy on the ear and I found her reading enjoyable.

    A very worthwhile book I would listen to again.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 06-22-14
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 06-22-14 Member Since 2008
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    "The eternal fight for Music"
    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Secret Piano?

    When a piano - a PIANO - was smuggled into a Chinese labor camp! It was astounding!


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes! It was a riveting listen, making a long bus trip go by much quicker than it otherwise would have. It is not an easy read, but lest we forget...


    Any additional comments?

    This book is definitely very musically technical, but you don't need to be familiar with all things musical to appreciate the struggle present under an oppressive government regime.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    02-05-13
    02-05-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Touching and Sad"

    As the other reviewers have said Zhu Xiao-Mei had a great love for music and a determined need to grow in her art but her avoidance of affection for her family is sad. She loved her grandmother when a child but was alienated from her through the political situation in China. Her family was untrusting of each other as a result of the despotic where total loyalty to the state was demanded. They were not allowed to show physical love or sorrow even in a long term departures. The book was all about her need for music. She wasn't able to work on her human relationships as hard as she worked on her art. She didn't mention what happened to her husband of convenience or any other love relationships. The book would have been more interesting if she hadn't been so guarded but she was so brainwashed as a child it was probably impossible to express her deep feelings.

    Watch her on you tube playing the Goldberg variations they are amazing as she has such little hands to be able to play so well and with such tender feelings. Number 7 is my favorite.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Miguel Kfar Saba, Israel 01-29-13
    Miguel Kfar Saba, Israel 01-29-13
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    "calm and thrilling"
    Would you listen to The Secret Piano again? Why?

    Because it reminds me my own experiences under a dictatorship in Argentina


    What does Nancy Wu bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    A voice and an image


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    from anger to peace of mind


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ed Patterson Florida, USA 11-12-12
    Ed Patterson Florida, USA 11-12-12

    Avidreader

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    "A very powerful story"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Secret Piano to be better than the print version?

    No, but then I enjoy reading. I purchased this audible version on a whim. I do have an extensive audible book library (mostly on tape :-)) but I tent to read more than listen. The idea of reading the book in the house then listening to it in the car appealed to me.

    The read, listen, read feature with the Kindle is amazing. The last read pointers are spot to taking you to the page or first read paragraph of the page when listening. Amazing when you think about it. But this is not supposed to be a review of Whisper Sync


    What did you like best about this story?

    I am not a big biography|autobiography person. Read a few in school when I had to and maybe 3 others in the last 30 years. So if your are looking for a comparative review this is not it.

    The opportunity to read an uncensored account about someones experiences in another country by someone approximately my age appealed to me.

    As I recall growing up the cultural revolution in China was a good thing. At least that was the common consensus in the media at the time. This book proves otherwise.


    Have you listened to any of Nancy Wu’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, this is my first book by her. She is very articulate and easy to listen to. Definitely not the cheap pigeon English knock off other producers have used when trying to tell an Asian story.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    You simply can not read or listing to this book without tearing up. It is a painfully unbiased account of at best brutal times in China. It would serve some people well to read it before parroting the current anti-Chinese sediment made popular by recent elections.

    The author has given a large gift of herself by writing this book. And I would imaging put herself at considerable risk. For that I am extremely grateful and will try to get some of my more biased friends to read and or listen to it.

    You can not get a much more extreme reaction than trying to get a red neck friend to read a book about a pianist in a commie country!


    Any additional comments?

    This is simply a must experience book. It has a place on the required reading list for high school. Too bad reading is no longer required in high school.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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