Review: Wild Swans

During my time at the London Book Fair I had the opportunity to hear Jung Chang speak.  She’s a Chinese writer who now lives in Britain.  Her name sounded familiar to me when I was looking at the list of speakers.  It wasn’t until the moderator held up her book did I realize she wrote one of the books I would stop and look at when I worked in a bookstore in Boston.  I was one of the people who stocked the shelves, which for a book lover was wonderful and painful.  I loved seeing all of the books.  I regretted not having enough time to read all of them.  There were times when I wanted to stop working and to sit on the floor and read. However, since I enjoyed receiving my paychecks this wasn’t feasible.

While I listened to Jung Chang speak, I marveled over her eloquence and passion.  She’s also written a biography about Mao.   I must admit that I don’t know a lot about Mao.  After listening to her speak about her own history and about Mao I promised myself that I would finally sit down and read her book, Wild Swans.  And I was happy to see that it was on my 1001 list of books, which surprised me since most of them are novels and this one is a memoir.  I have always been fascinated by memoirs.

Wild Swans is not an easy read.  This isn’t to say that the language is complicated.  In fact, I devoured the book in a few days and my copy is 669 pages.  Her writing is beautiful and almost hypnotic.  The book follows the lives of three women.  Chang’s grandmother, mother, and her own story came alive right in my living room.  I felt immersed in their stories and felt their pain, suffering, and sometimes happiness.  It also chronicles Chinese history during the 20th century.  If you are like me and don’t know a lot about Chinese history during this time, it was a turbulent time.  Wars, famines, political upheavals, natural disasters, and the rise and fall of Mao kept me riveted to my seat.  When I write that this was hard to read, I mean their stories made cringe in my seat.  The hardships that these women and their families endured were more than I could imagine.  The best part of this book is the honesty of the author.  She not only details what is happening but what it meant to her and to her family.  And most importantly, it explains why she and many of those around her believed in Mao, at least during the beginning.  Since Mao came to power when Change was a child, you can see her indoctrination process.  It astounded me.

Many of the scenes in the book are moving.   I welled up on many occasions.  On other occasions, I was angry.  She made me laugh, think, sympathize, question, you name it, I felt it.   This book is a rollercoaster of emotions.   And it made me believe that no matter what obstacles you face, if you have the love and support of those around you, you can face them head on.  You may not always succeed, but you can keep your dignity.  Mao’s regime tore families apart.  But not this one.  This family stuck together.  They are a true inspiration.

Wild Swans won the 1993 British Book of the Year and the 1992 NCR Book Award.  It has been translated into 30 languages and has sold millions of copies.  My edition was the 21st Anniversary edition and it included a moving afterward by Chang about how the success of the book has impacted her and her family.  If you are looking for a wonderful introduction into this part of history, I highly recommend it.  This book counts towards one of my reading challenges, Award Winning Books.

I tried getting a picture of Jung Change but the crowd was large. The picture above is of the stage for all the author interviews. The majority of my time at the fair was spent here listening and learning. I’m hoping to go next year.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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27 Responses to Review: Wild Swans

  1. T.F.Walsh says:

    Great review… and how exciting to get to meet Jung Chang:)

  2. blueberriejournal says:

    That must be really hard work to put books on the shelves instead of reading them. Your review of Wild Swans is very inviting. I think I’m going to read it. Thanks.

    • TBM says:

      I hope you like it. I couldn’t put it down. And yes, it was hard not to read the books I was shelving. I had to leave the job since I was spending everything I made there 🙂

  3. scrapydo says:

    Amazing book I’ve read it years back.

  4. Am I right in assuming that you didn’t have her book with you when you heard her speak? Wouldn’t that have been great to not only see her but also have her sign your book? Do they arrange for time with the authors for autographs at the London Book Fair? I was able to meet one of my favourite authors, Diana Gabaldon, last summer and have her sign my book, and I was ecstatic! There is something about hearing an author speak about their work, the hows and the whys, that brings you so much closer to the story, especially when it’s a memoir like the one you read. Great post TBM!!

    • TBM says:

      I didn’t have a copy with me. They were selling some but I heard so many wonderful authors that if I bought all of the books I would be broke. After each interview there was time for a book signing. I haven’t read Gabaldon yet, but I want to. That’s cool that you have a signed copy!

  5. melouisef says:

    I actually have 2 copies (lost one found it again) of the book and one for my kindle.
    Wish I read it before we went to China though

  6. aFrankAngle says:

    Just another example of there is simply so much in the world to know.

  7. Grace says:

    I’m so jealous that you got to hear the author speak. I loved “Wild Swans,” particularly because we got to see Chinese history from multiple perspectives and without a lot of judgment on the people involved. We can sympathize with and understand the mother’s idealism as we see through the daughter’s eyes exactly what went wrong and how it happened.

    • TBM says:

      Her writing astonished me since it was so frank and not filled with explanations that many memoirs I’ve read contain. In my opinion, she stuck to the facts. Her honesty makes this a really unique book. And she’s a lovely woman. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak I really suggest you go!

  8. I read The Wild Swans a few years ago, and was stunned by it. You did it justice in this post, TBM!

  9. Gilly Gee says:

    I’ve had it for years but still haven’t read it, maybe its time.

  10. lynnsbooks says:

    I actually read this and so know it’s a great story but can’t remember all of it – I should maybe return! Does it start with one of the females remembering her foot binding??
    I think it was this one but i’ve given it away so can’t go check. Good review. It makes me want to buy it again.
    Lynn 😀

  11. Fergiemoto says:

    That seems like a lengthy and ambitious book! How awesome to hear the author speak.

  12. Myra GB says:

    TBM! Welcome back! And a review to boot! How very productive. I missed your posts, will catch up on your latest ones soon. Thank you as well for adding this to the July Database. 🙂 Sounds like a wonderful book.

  13. Georgia says:

    Thanks for the book review TBM, I have been aware of this book for a long time but will definitely put it on my ‘to read’ list now.

  14. Jo Bryant says:

    I love this book…and her writing. How wonderful you were htere to hear her speak

  15. Pingback: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell | 50 Year Project

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