Review: Wild Swans – The Daughters of China, by Jung Chang

jc_editions_wildswans_uk_lrgSynopsis: Through the story of three generations of women – grandmother, mother and daughter – Wild Swans tells nothing less than the whole tumultuous history of China’s tragic twentieth century, from sword-bearing warlords to Chairman Mao, from the Manchu Empire to the Cultural Revolution. At times terrifying, at times astonishing, always deeply moving, Wild Swans is a book in a million, a true story with all the passion and grandeur of a great novel. For this new edition, Jung Chang has written a new introduction, bringing her own story up to date, and describing the effect Wild Swans’ success has had on her life.

Title: Wild Swans – The Daughters of China
Author: Jung Chang
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pub Date: 1991
Pages: 650
ISBN: 9780007176151

Rating: 5stars

“Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.”

I came across this book on a friend’s shelf; it looked intriguing so I begged to borrow it. At a hefty 650 pages, my fingers would always slide over it when choosing a book to read and – a year later – I gave it back untouched. I then bought it on my e-reader in the hope that I’d actually read it.

Skip forward another two years and I’ve finally gotten through it. This is a beautiful rendition of the struggle three generations of women have faced under Chinese rule.

Chang discusses her parents’ torture, her own brainwashing as a member of the Red Guard and her subsequent disillusionment in a calm, dispassionate tone. Her quiet retelling of the horrors of her family’s life is incredibly emotive; what she doesn’t say stands out more than what she does.

This isn’t an easy book to read; at times, I had to step away from it for a day or so and read something a little more light-hearted before I could face it again. The horror these women had faced was too much for me to bear in one go. I found it too depressing and even considered giving up at one point.

But then I realised something; this book is a non-fiction and, as such, the awful, horrific, terrible events were not only true, but only one account out of millions who had suffered similar fates. I can watch a horror film or read a post-apocalyptic book without flinching; would I so easily push this novel aside for being too real?

I picked up the book with a new level of respect; I was determined to travel with Chang through her horrific, yet inspiring journey. Wild Swans is depressing – you can’t read it and not despair at the lengths people will go to for power. But it is also inspiring; each family member’s resilience and courage to stand up for what they believed in is incredible.

This outstanding novel is the biggest grossing non-fiction paperback in publishing history. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and was translated into 37 languages. However, 24 years after its publication, it is still banned in China. This harrowing, yet uplifting read is something that everyone one should read at least once.

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