Monday, May 19, 2008

Wild Swans - Jung Chang


Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 666
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Reading Challenge

An autobiographical account of Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother living in China. Her grandmother was one of the last generations to have her feet bound, a particularly painful procedure described in detail as tiny feet were seen as beautiful in China. She is given to a Warlord as a concubine by her ambitious father and doesn't know happiness until she gives birth to a daughter and is able to run away when her "husband" dies. She later remarries Dr Xia whose family do not approve of her previous marriage and connections. A family berevement forces them to move out by themselves (people mostly lived in family groups) with her daughter who is raised by Xia.

Japan's rule has been overthrown by the Chinese, but civil war between the Kuomintang and Communist party led by Mao throws the country into confusion. Jung's mother and father are staunch communists which is how they meet and both become officials. Her father in particular lives for the party and always puts it ahead of his wife to the extent that she suffers a miscarriage and almost dies because she is forced to march in harsh conditions and he refuses to let her ride in the car as she is a lower rank than him and he believes in setting an example. SHe nearly leaves him countless times, but comes to understand and love him over their years together. They have 5 children in total (2 girls and 3 boys) before the party turns on the officials and increases the torture of it's own people. Jung's parents fall foul of allegations and are taken in to custody and tortured from which her father never really recovers.

Jung herself is subjected to the brainwashing campaign of Chairman Mao who they are taught is ever closer than her parents. He sets himself up as almost an Emperor of old, a dictator who decrees that even plants and grass are uncommunist and must be pulled up. He causes widespread famine and later sends the children out to live with peasants to try and educate them and get cheap labour. He is very against intellectuals and so closes the universities and works against the educated. After his death, she is able to go to university and later travel to England to study further. By the end of the book things are slowly changing although she is not allowed back into China.

This was a very intersesting book and I hope to read the biography of Mao she has written with her English husband. I have never been to China and didn't know much of it's history so this was quite eye opening. The Chinese are portratyed as having immense national pride although being more brutal than the culture I am used to. The narrative is slightly detached in places, but I think to relive her life would have been a traumatic experience for her and so it makes sense. She also put off writing her account of her life for many years after moving permanently to England. A very personal account that educated me a little more which shows her parents to be innocent of all charges made against them and then punnished for their loyalty.

4 comments:

Kim L said...

Wow this sounds like an intense read. I haven't heard of it, but I'll add it to my list. Ever since I read The Joyluck Club, I've been interested in China.

Nymeth said...

I really want to read this someday. I know so little about the history of China. And plus I don't think I've yet seen a negative review of it.

Rhinoa said...

Kim - It is quite harrowing in places and I hope you enjoy it if you get around to it.

Nymeth - I think you will really enjoy this. It's gritty, honest and full of history and tales. Just your kind of book.

Trish said...

This was submitted as a "future classic" suggestion for my challenge, but I didn't know what it was about--thanks for the review! Sounds like a fasinating book--China has such a rich and interesting history.