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Anchee Min, a Chinese novelist, has written many books about life in China revolving around the Cultural Revolution, including her autobiography Red Azalea. In her novel Katherine (1995), readers are exposed to life after the Cultural Revolution. The story focuses on two bold characters—Katherine and Zebra. Katherine, an American schoolteacher, comes to China to teach English to the younger generation. Her western ideology—free spirit, free will, and her stylish appearance--influences her students to think differently about the ways they live. Zebra, a student, has aspiring goals to be like Katherine in every way possible. Min portrays these two characters as very close friends, lost souls with only each other to turn to and rely on.
During the Cultural Revolution, Zebra was sent to work in a mine where she used dynamite. She was raped by her party boss and became pregnant. Zebra confides in Katherine that she took a drug to kill the baby and at work she felt a stream of blood run down her leg (101). Zebra has never before told anybody what has happened to her in this mine. After Katherine hears the story, Zebra cries in her arms. The only reason she tells Katherine this horrible story is because she trusts her. But before Zebra actually tells Katherine what happens she comments: “I don’t know how it happened, but all at that moment, my heart felt a sudden tenderness” (97).
Katherine also confides in Zebra when telling her about her childhood. Katherine’s biological mother was mute, and it was very hard for the two to communicate. Katherine says that she struggled to have a normal childhood. “Because my biological mother was deaf and blind I thought that I might become deaf and blind at any moment” (102). Zebra is there for her and can relate, Zebra having a rough family life as well. Her mother is not blind and deaf, but the communication between the two is not there. Zebra spends little time with any of her family members, and hardly ever speaks to them. Zebra and Katherine’s lives merge because of the things they share in common—similar ages, having rough pasts, and having nobody to rely and confide in.
Zebra also turns to Katherine when she has a relationship with Lion Head, a classmate of Zebra’s.
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"The Relationship Between Katherine and Zebra in Anchee Min's Novel, Katherine." 123HelpMe.com. 25 Jan 2020
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Katherine turns to Zebra when she goes to adopt Little Rabbit. She asks Zebra to accompany her when they visit the orphanage. Zebra must lie to her factory boss and say that she is visiting her dying grandmother. Being a good friend, she takes the trip with Katherine, jeopardizing her job. Zebra does not hesitate about helping her friend although she is aware that she could get into serious trouble. Zebra says, “I must get a permit to leave my job for three days. The unit head wouldn’t grant me permission unless someone in the family was dying, I lied” (146). Katherine also turns to Zebra to take care of Little Rabbit when she is back in America. Zebra visits the child, takes care of her, and even takes off from work to visit Little Rabbit who is sick in the hospital (286).
When Katherine is sent back to America, it is very hard for the two to say their good-byes. Katherine tells Zebra to meet her in an apartment, where the two say their partings. In this emotional moment, Katherine and Zebra both choke up and cry. Yet, Min is successful in showing Katherine and Zebra’s growing relationship without the emotional aspects of their friendship overpowering the novel.
Min, Anchee. Katherine. New York: Berkley, 1996.