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The forces of history and the exceptional talents of this young writer combine to produce a work of nonfiction with the breadth and drama of the richest, most memorable fiction classics. Wild Swans is a landmark book, with the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic vision of a monumental human saga, which tells of the lives of Jung Chang, her mother, her grandmother, and of 20th-century China. 16-page photo insert.
Posted March 24, 2010
It's strange how things work out. I randomly picked Wild Swans out from the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die. I can't tell you why I chose it, except that (as I do with all of the books I read from that list), I just scrolled through it and stopped and pointed my finger and that was the book I would request.
Then.. I noticed that it was due back to the library so, after reading my Book Club's selection of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, I decided to move on to Wild Swans. This.. was a good decision. I knew nothing of China - especially China under Chiang Kai-shek and then later on, Chairman Mao. I got a glimpse of the hatred that one of the main characters in <i>Hotel</i> had toward the Japanese (being from China himself), but still had no idea the extent of the torture, the pain and the horrible version of life going on within China's borders.
After I began to read Wild Swans, people around me started to talk about it (without even knowing that I was reading it). I was asked at my book club if I had read Wild Swans and asked by two random people I know through daily life if I'd ever read this book. Before I began to read it though.. I'd never even heard of it.
So I should talk some about the actual book.. since this is technically a review.
First - it's non-fiction. It's readable, in its own way. Although very densely packed with names, dates, places and events, I was able to easily follow the lives of Jung Chang's grandmother, her mother and herself through the changes of China.
This is not an easy book to read and you shouldn't pick it up unless you are willing to be thoroughly invested in learning difficult names, reading about difficult things and prepared to have your eyes opened to something that, in my opinion, is not taught about enough. I've always considered China to be a country of mystery - one that I always hear rumors about.. and honestly, if I hadn't been working my way through the 1001 Books, I don't think I would have willingly chosen this book to read. I chose to begin reading through the list for that very reason, to expose myself to books I wouldn't normally choose and this book is a prime example of why. I consider myself enriched by learning the stories of Jung Chang and her family and blessed to not have to endure even a small fraction of what they had to endure.
There are times I believe that the right book comes along at the right time to be read, and this was one of those books.
12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 10, 2008
Jung Chang's book is written for westerners in mind. Although it is touted as a great resource for westerners to learn about modern Chinese history, it is really a long propoganda piece denouncing the Chinese past. While many things that the Communist government did are horrible in retrospect, what Chang didn't get across was the true patriotic fervor that the Chinese people had during everything that happened. She made it sound like everyone who went along with the propoganda the government put out was an evil person. Her skewed western feminist view is also a vexing part of her book. She makes it sound like all women were treated like third-class citizens, when in reality, many, if not most, were treated better than they were during the imperial and republic times. Many of my classmates who read this book were constantly appalled by how women were 'treated', but I still believe that they just couldn't grasp the millenia-old Chinese culture that shaped this view of women. To me it's like westerners feeling stunned that women in the Middle East still wear burkhas, but not understanding that this is a part of their culture. While this a well-written book that is obviously passionate, it should be read with the understanding that the author is very outspoken against the Chinese government. Many former Chinese citizens who lived throught the Cultural Revolution and now live in the west (my father included) do NOT agree with what she has written. Her views are her own and people should be aware that they are not as widely shared as she would like people to believe.
8 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. A well traveled and book savvy friend recommended it to me. I began reading with a sense of obligation; and I must admit, I set it aside several times to indulge in lighter reading. However, I am very glad that I persevered.
The author has given us a remarkable account her family's experience in 20th century China. Her grandmother is born as the empire is crumbling. She belongs to the last generation of women whose feet were bound. The author's description of the procedure and it's long term consequences is riveting. Her family sells her as a concubine to a general. By the time he dies in the midst of a rebellion, she has given birth to a daughter. This child grows up in the midst of social and political chaos, the horrors of the Japanese invasion, and World War II. She embraces the Communist party, and marries a man as committed to the cause as she is. Although the party comes first, while bearing and raising four children, they are victims of the cultural revolution. The author witnesses the deism of Mao as a child, then benefits from the opening of China to the West as she becomes one of the first to travel abroad for a college education.
This book is an accomplishment on so many levels. It is a well constructed family narrative. The details of Chinese culture and politics are absorbing. Impressive to me as well is the fluency with which it is written, in a language the author began to learn as a young adult.
4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2012
Just returned from a trip to China. Our guide recommended this book and he was right. This is a very interesting perspective on China's modern history. It is easy to read and captivates you from the first page.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2012
I enjoy reading all kinds of books. As a teen, I read "The Good Earth" and fell for books about Asia. I reread that book every few years. When this book was selected by my book club, I looked forward to reading it. It was a slow, miserable process. I never could connect with the characters. I haven't read many books by Chinese authors and wanted to like it. The only way I finished it was to tell myself the I could read something interesting when I finished. I'm sorry to say I couldn't recommend this book.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 14, 2012
I had a difficult time reading this book as it gave information but you did not feel as if you were there. I can read a history book next time.
2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2010
Although much of the book addresses events and lives long past, it is a sobering story whose themes may be more modern than I'd like.
The swans are three Chinese women, each from a different generation (GMo, Mo, Da) and they are wild because they don't strictly follow the rules of their times. The price they paid for their independent thinking and living was horrific. The grandmother's tale begins in the late 1890s and early 1900s when the political regime was undergoing a violent upheaval. The mother's story picks up as the political party changes to communism, another violent and unpredictable wave of change. The daughter, from whose perspective the book is written, tells of her own work for the communists and her departure from China. She tells her grandmother's and mother's stories with passion and respect, while providing the historical context in which to appreciate the women's difficulties.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 3, 2014
I read this book as part of a required reading list for a history class I took in college ten years ago and, unlike pretty much every other book I've ever read, I STILL actually think about this book often. I've long since lost my paperback copy, having loaned it out to several people, so I'm picking up the nook version to go back and read again.
Approach this book as what it is--a multi-generational memoir. A couple of other reviewers call this book biased and of course it is... this is not a history textbook. It is an account of this woman's life and experiences as well as those of her mother and grandmother. China is a backdrop.
This is a heavy read, but well worth it. It's almost like reading an omnibus or anthology comprised of three separate books with overlapping stories. It's a rewarding read, too, though, and I remember being able to vividly imagine what was going on in each well-described scene.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2011
I've been reading it for a book club, and I'm struggling. I thought it would be more the women's story, but it is primarily political and military events. I'll keep trying, though.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2014
Chang made this subject about China's Maoist Revolution seem boring!
The writing was dry, unemotional, and bland just like the Chinese communists she writes about. It was not worth my time and effort to trudge through the 600 plus long pages. Meh! Don't bother.
Posted August 22, 2014
Posted August 22, 2014
This is an intense novel dealing with the stormy history of China, and the history of the role of women in China. The role of women in China follows three generations of women in one family. Some of the accepted cultural practices will make the reader shudder. This is an excellent book for discussions of women's roles and the cultural practices of China!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2014
This book is a truly amazing account of a woman and her family in China before and during the Cultural Revolution. It will horrify and inspire, and make you very appreciative of what you've got. A must read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2014
This is one of very few books that I have read twice. After reading it in 2005, this is the notation I made in my reading journal: A biography-memoir of the author's grandmother, born to be a war-lord's concubine; her mother's struggle to join the Communist Party; and the author's struggle to leave China. It presented a different perspective from other books I had read on China, and is of course, biased to the author's viewpoint.
I recommended the book to others at that time and gave away my copy. My Book Discussion Group read it several years later, and it got mixed reviews from the group. I recommended it to someone else and gave away my second copy for their use. When it came up on Nook, I decided to repurchase to read it again. ( I believe in buying books second hand and keeping them circulating).
Posted August 5, 2014
Posted August 5, 2014
This is a wonderfully detailed and powerfully moving history of how people can be duped and deluded, abused and terrified by a Communist regime that promised to love them. Each page drew me into emotional rapport with each the three main characters, grandmother, mother and daughter, as they summoned their special strength to free themselves and each other.
A gripping read to the last page, this book inspired my life.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2014
This is an interesting look at a multigenerational family and the trials they had to endure as China's leadership changes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 6, 2012
Posted March 27, 2012