Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung ChangWild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
Published by Harper Perennial on April 5th 2004
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 650

A new edition of one of the best-selling and best-loved books of recent years, with a new introduction by the author. The publication of Wild Swans in 1991 was a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did it become the best-selling non-fiction book in British publishing history, with sales of well over two million, it was received with unanimous critical acclaim, and was named the winner of the 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 British Book of the Year Award. Few books have ever had such an impact on their readers. 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.

4 Stars

I have always liked history, but my biggest fascination lies (and has lain for years) in the history, culture, mythology and politics of Japan and China. So as you can guess, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China was everything I could have ever wanted. The amount of insight I gained from this read is invaluable, and yet, it didn’t read like a history textbook. Instead it is an entertaining, albeit harrowing, memoir depicting the joys and struggles of three Chinese women of the same family through three generations in the 20th century.

The novel chronicles the journey of three women, but perhaps most importantly, China. In a way, China can be considered the book’s main character. We start the story in the late Quing dynasty, China under the Kwomintang, witness the Communist revolution and the subsequent over-through of the government and the establishment of the Communist regime, experience the catastrophe that was the Great Leap Forward (or rather Backward) and the seemingly endless years of the Cultural Revolution. In the end, we are left with something a bit more hopeful, with the depiction of the China’s gradual liberalisation.

I had the fortune of having studied Chinese history for half a year in my Advanced History class in high school and so all the main events and political players were familiar to me, yet Wild Swans offered me so much new information. It is a book you can (and should) read regardless of your prior knowledge and is suitable for anyone who can stomach the descriptions of torture and violence that took place at the time. The novel is simultaneously depressing and uplifting and is made even more so by the way it is narrated so honestly and emotionally and in such a self-aware manner.

I have gained a lot of respect for Jung Chang and her family reading this, as well as for all the brave and loyal people involved with them. The story is well-told, if at times a bit repetitive, and the book is one I am sure will be unforgettable.

Wild Swans makes me grateful that I was born in the time and place that I was, in a country where I can live freely, with human rights that aren’t questioned, and am allowed to pursue all the education I desire. I genuinely believe that everyone should read this book. Highly recommended.