Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. Walker & Co. 2008.
A few years ago, I was selecting audiobooks for my mom, who has macular degeneration. She was particularly taken with this title, and I've only just now read it in e-format.
As part of the Cultural Revolution in China, Li Cunxin was selected from a rural town to become a dancer. He was sent as a young child to Beixing and spent many years in rigorous training and indoctrination. But after a 6-week period as an exchange ballet student in Houston and an eye-opening introduction to the western world, he began to doubt the Communist tenets he had believed in. He made plans for a return trip, and ultimately defected.
In retrospect, I can completely understand why my mother found this an inspiring biography. It is a compelling story, a window into a place that was shrouded in secrecy and prejudice; it is a bridge between that place and the world we know and take so much for granted. And it is a powerful paean to the triumph of will in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.