THE Cooked Seed: a Memoir
In the dedication of her latest book, The Cooked Seed, best-selling Chinese author Anchee Min thanks her daughter for “making [her] write this book.” One cannot help but wonder why — with such a powerful story to tell — Min waited until now to share it. And then, as her rollicking tale takes off and we’ve forgiven her for the delay, we eagerly join her in a second round of heartfelt thanks to Lauryann.
Min, whose first memoir, Red Azalea, told the story of her youth in China growing up under the leadership of Chairman Mao and introduced many to the true horrors of that regime, picks up here where she left off. It’s 1984, she’s 27 and on a plane bound for Chicago with a $500 loan in her pocket, no understanding of English and only a vague plan to study art.
After Mao died and his wife was overthrown, Min was quickly discarded by society, considered “a cooked seed,” one that would never sprout. Like generations of immigrants before her, Min bore her family’s burden of heading to America to save herself and rescue them all from a life of poverty.
With that heavy weight on her shoulders, Min faces unbelievable hardship, financial challenges and just plain rotten luck.
Min’s writing is as beautiful and compelling as always here, and as we learn how she taught herself English — how else, but by watching TV — and later how she finds her literary voice, her talent is even more astounding.
The only time the narrative peters out is when Min goes into too much detail about her American, Vietnam vet husband. I found myself wanting to know less about him and more about her and her feelings for and her relationship with him.
But, overall, The Cooked Seed will hook you and stay with you for a long time.
— Kim Curtis
The Pistol Annies
Annie Up is a good title for the Pistol Annies’ second album. Like the gambling term it playfully puns, the title underscores that this brash trio is raising the stakes, investing more time, effort and artistic nerve into its new 12-song collection.
The gamble pays off: Annie Up builds on the trio’s successful debut Hell on Heels by taking even more risks with bold material and inventive arrangements. Mixing bawdy humor with sensitive insight, the Annies entertainingly take on real-life issues, including how Southern families quell their secrets (Hush Hush), how alcoholics curse themselves while pouring another drink (Dear Sobriety) and how women struggle with what it takes to prepare for an evening (Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty).
The Pistol Annies began as a side lark for country music star Miranda Lambert. Formed with songwriting buddies Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, the trio’s debut initially was available only through the Internet and without the full promotional effort given Lambert’s other albums. But fan support and significant sales lifted these fully armed artists into a significant, ground-breaking act. Rather than play it safe, they roll the dice with another daring collection that should lift their profiles even higher.
— Michael McCall
She & Him
Is there any limit to Zooey Deschanel’s creativity?
With her comical hit show, New Girl, it’s hard to work out when she would have the time to write music. And the new album Volume 3 from her duo, She & Him, with singer-songwriter M. Ward, definitely doesn’t sound like an album that’s been made on the side.
Their third record bursts to life with the bluesy I’ve Got Your Number, Son, and Deschanel’s tone is dulcet. It’s the kind of song you imagine being played on the jukebox in a 1950s diner.
The lyrics throughout the album are dreamy and full of unrequited love, but sung in an almost theatrical way. In Never Wanted Your Love, Deschanel adopts a Texan drawl. The addition of Ward’s voice on Baby creates a beautiful harmony with Deschanel’s tone, and an electric guitar riff adds a rock ’n’ roll spin to the record.
The album’s only weak moment is the cover of Blondie’s Sunday Girl, which comes off flat. Otherwise, She & Him has a winner.
— Sian Watson