Bend, Not Break
How a frightened, determined little girl made her way from political prisoner to CEO.
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Later Fu was given a factory job in the camp making car parts. Here, she excelled, and writes that the joy of doing good work – and being appreciated by fellow workers – gave her a feeling of “elation” and the sense that “I was a somebody at last.”Skip to next paragraph
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Eventually Fu made it out of the camp and into a Chinese university – only to be ejected from the country for a “crime.” Her birth father was able to arrange a spot for her at the University of New Mexico. On her own, she left for the United States without “a single spare dollar” in her pocket, only three words of English in her vocabulary, and a single distant contact in her new homeland. Her trip was almost derailed when she arrived in San Francisco and discovered that the traveler’s checks she was carrying were $5 shy of being able to buy her a plane ticket to Albuquerque. At that point a stranger stepped forward and paid the difference. Fu never saw him again but says she will never forget the lesson that he taught her: “When in doubt, always err on the side of generosity.”
Once in Albuquerque she was briefly kidnapped (yes, really) and discovered that her only contact had left the state. But again, through the kindness of
others and the joy of work Fu not only survived but flourished. In her typical way, she threw herself into waitressing – devising the shortest routes from kitchen to table and burnishing her listening and communication skills until she was the best worker on the floor.
Fu applied equal vigor to her studies. When it became clear that her math skills were at an elementary-school level, she checked books out of the public library and tutored herself incessantly until she could ace calculus.
“Bend, Not Break” makes chronological leaps back and forth throughout Fu’s life. The memoir is front-loaded with the most compelling material, but each phase of Fu’s experience is instructive, including accounts of business deals in which she was able to apply lessons learned from childhood struggles.
When it comes to the present-day sections of the book, readers with less dynamic life stories than Fu’s may take comfort in the fact that even this wunderkind finds sustaining life as a working family member and fulfilled human being to be a puzzling challenge.
But no matter what the struggle, Fu never seems to lose sight of her guiding principles: “to find joy in whatever I do” and the understanding that, even in business, “it’s all about love.” Fu’s enthusiastic pursuit of meaning and deeper purpose in every phase of her life lends her memoir powerful appeal.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s books editor.