A couple of years ago a former member of my book club suggested that we pick Jung Chang’s Wild Swans as our monthly read and so it went into the hat (actually a sunglasses case) to be drawn out and it was the winner. We were all a bit drunk though and decided that it sounded too long and complicate and so we never ended up reading it. At the time I didn’t find the premise of the true story of three generations of women growing up in China all that intriguing, not sure why, but when I found an actual physical copy of this in our abandoned book cupboard I decided to make it my “bath book”.
For those who don’t know, I like to read in the bath. I find it very soothing… when I am not being distracted by Little O hoofing me in the belly… he likes baths. I don’t normally wallow for that long so my bath book can take months to read but I like the ritual. At 650 pages, Wild Swans took me almost five months to read and quite some time to get into but once I did it was definitely worth it.
By chronicling the lives of her grandmother, mother and herself Chang paints a rich history of a nation and culture through one of the biggest fundamental changes in modern history.
From her grandmother’s life as the concubine to a warlord in feudal China to her mother’s involvement in the Communist revolution as a high ranking official to her own struggle for independent thought and to express herself under the Communist regime, Chung is able to paint what life was like for Chinese women over the last hundred years while also making the historical and political information accessible.
I knew little about modern China before reading this so learning how a political system which came about from the desire to make things more equal became so incredibly unequal is fascinating as is learning how crushing the cult of Mao was to creativity, free thought and independence.
Overall a fascinating and engrossing read that is both educational and entertaining. We probably should have read it for book club. 4/5