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May 12, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

KATHERINE by Anchee Min (Berkley: $6.99; 287 pp.). In her first novel, Chinese-born writer Anchee Min begins to fulfill the promise of her highly praised autobiography, "Red Azalea." The title character, an idealistic American woman, comes to Shanghai in the early 1980s to teach English to students and workers. Zebra, the narrator of the story; Lion Head, a selfish, self-styled free thinker; and Jasmine, the vindictive daughter of a Communist Party official, are struggling to rebuild their lives after the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Seeing Katherine's unconstrained good humor, Zebra realizes that the Communists' relentless indoctrination into Maoist doctrine has stunted her classmates intellectually, as life under a corrupt, repressive bureaucracy has stunted them emotionally. Min offers a darkly moving portrait of a young woman attempting to escape the all-pervasive tyranny of petty officialdom.

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