At one point in this memoir, Anchee Min quotes the proverb "Poverty gives birth to evil personalities". This book shows that happening, but it is not just material poverty -- the women who have so little power battle each other like a pack of starving dogs fighting over a very small crust. Min's main theme, too, is the drought of desire in a sexually and emotionally repressive culture. Friendship is subversive and cannot survive, sex is subversive. Min weaves together her themes in a subtle and skillful structure, selecting details and observations from among her memories. Almost all the major characters presented are women. The language is rather graceless, it never lets you forget that the author is translating her memories from Chinese; yet it's very effective, and never falls into English clichés.