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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.
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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.
6 out of 11 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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 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
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.
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Posted April 10, 2010
Jung Chang vividly recreates China for the reader by telling the story of her maternal grandmother, mother and herself. These are real women who lived to see the many political and social changes occurring in China from the time of concubines, warlords, Japanese invasion, and Mao's Communist rule. The changes to China and for these women is dramatic and remarkable. It's easy to see why so many Chinese embraced Communism as a way to improve the lives of the poor or lower middle class. It's also heartbreaking to see how that hope and idealism brings about such suffering and loss of culture.
The story of the lives of the women is a fast read. The historical and political information sometimes required a second read to process. I highly recommend this book. It gave me a perspective on how China has evolved and the resilience of the Chinese people.
Posted November 11, 2009
This is one of the best books I have read -- an enthralling insight into the lives of three women and the effects on them of the changes in China during the 20th century. Through the eyes of a granddaughter we see how life changed for her grandmother, her mother, and finally herself over the course of the Long March, the rise of Maoist Communism, and the Cultural Revolution. It includes a wealth of family photographs that further bring these women and Maoist China to life. I have nothing but praise for Jung Chang's moving account of her life -- I recommend it to anyone who loves autobiography or is interested in the emergence of modern China.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2009
I purchased this book just before taking a trip to China and read it throughout the trip. It was an excellent choice as I learned much about the history,culture, and politics of the people and country. It flows beautifully and is captivating in its narration of the lives of the three generations of this family's women. It is especially effective as it is written in first person. Interestingly, this book was the top recommendation of our very experienced tour director.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 22, 2009
I had trouble reading this book. Many parts are very touching, but no one has this good of a memory. I'm sure Ms. Chang wants us to picture things in her past but many details (colors, clothing, smells, etc.) would not be remembered many years ago by a small child. Enjoyable, but it reads like fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2009
Unbelievable! Spellbinding! You literally lived through three generations of China and were astounded at the life there. Each of the main characters were extra-ordinary strong women who loved passionately not only their families but their country as their way of life as they knew it changed drastically from one minute to the next. The intelligence brought forth from a country turned inward completely astounded me. This story stays with you for weeks after. I wound up on the internet researching China for things that were described in the book. I was excited to see that the people named were real people who did indeed have the power described in the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2008
Anyone who has ridden along the tide during Mao's reign would have to say the book captues the true flavor of that time. Her story is full of emotion and one may suspect it is biased, but who could not be free of being subjectve, when one has personally experienced the trauma and misery inflicted to her family? This is viewing history from a personal prospective, completely true it may not be, it is true completely when it comes to general facts and feelings. How shocking it is that human nature can be easily swayed to the dark side by one dictator, and hero standing alone cannot suvive against collective evil force. The book has a bright ending, thankfully, it is telling the reality not a dream.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 4, 2008
The story of Wild Swans was touching and appealing, particularly to women. It used the accounts of the author, her mother, and grandmother to describe the monumental changes that China underwent in the 20th century. I beleive that this book was extremely well written as well as being highly entertaining. I would definately reccomend this book to other students or people interested in learning about China during the 20th century. Wild Swans provides information on many historical events that occured during this time period as well as showing how the social system of China changed during the 20th century. In short I enjoyed this book tremendously and would definately reccomend it to others to read. In addition to enjoying the book, I beleive that the author, Jung Chang, accomplished her purpose wonderfully well. She succeeded in bringing to light the lives of Chinese people throughout the 20th century as they underwent extreme changes. Jung Chang's connection to the Communist government through her parents gives reader a deep insight into how the government was run and what promoted the tragedies that we in the west have heard about such as the Cultual Revolution. Wild Swans was an extremely well written book that was a pleasure to read. I would definately recomend this book to anyone that is interested in Chinese history or 20th century events, as well as to students looking to learn more about the time period.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2008
This book was a hard but enjoyable read. For the first time, I actually heard the true story of Mao and the Cultural Revolution that took place in China. This book did an awesome job explaining the life of Juang Chang¿s, the life of her mother and the life of her grandmother. This book not only focused on the lives of these three women but focused on the male family members as well as the Chinese government. Juang Chang completes her purpose for writing this book by stating actual events that happened in China in her life as well as her family¿s lifetime. She also provides pictures which help the reader get a better understanding on how China looked during Mao¿s rule and the Cultural Revolution. Lastly, Chang does a spectacular job of describing how the role of Chinese women changed as the years passed. In conclusion, I would truly recommend this book not only for an pleasurable read but also for a more entertaining way to learn China¿s history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 19, 2007
This is an engaging account of Jung Chang¿s life as well as a considerable portion of her parents¿ and grandparents life. br/ It covers from 1909 through the end of Cultural Revolution into 1978. It parallels much of the history of the 20th century of China. From the end of Imperial China, through Japanese occupation, the Nationalist movement, the Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communists, Communist takeover, Mao endless campaigns to consolidate power and turn the people to fight against each other in the name of revolution. Mother¿s binding feet, the three inches lotus feet, concubine, and struggle during WW2 for a cause, revolution for the sake of being manipulated or just want to survive. br/ Particularly of interesting is her contact with Deng Xiao Ping¿s stepmother who lived in her compound. ¿Grandma Deng, how you must have lived suffered to live under the Kuomintang! How the soldiers must have looted you! And the blooding landlords! What did they do to you? Well, grandma Deng answered ¿they didn¿t always loot¿ not always evil¿¿ 'p263'. Throughout the text there were several hints of criticism on Mao during purging campaigns people admitted the life under nationalist days were sometimes difficult but fared worse under Mao. This is a very compelling book. It is quite informative. Whether it is history, biography, communism, young pioneers, it will reach readers inner side. br/ One weakness of the book is the ending -Chapter 28: Fighting to Take Wing. Rather blindly admire a self proclaimed demi-god such as Mao and feel sorrow that he has passed away, was Jung Chang alone thinking in China that Maoism was suddenly a cult? She was shocked to learn the truth from Deng's stepmother just a few years ago in romote China. As a person grewup in Cummunist China with no contact of outside I am more inclined a part cadet would not express her feeling. The true feeling must have developed later in England as she researched and found the truth herself 'p495'. ¿The Gang of Four had been removed¿ I felt a wave of sadness. I expect only of joy of joy because of suffering people including herself and family experienced earlier. This is a very compelling biography. It is quite informative. Whether it is history, biography, communism, young pioneers, it will reach readers inner side. Sam Shueh, digital librarianWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.