Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung ChangMy rating: Nonfiction
I first read Wild Swans over a decade ago. At that time, I hadn't been to China, nor did I have any Chinese friends, and my reading of Chinese history had been limited to the classical period: this book was my first glimpse into modern China and its origins.
Focusing primarily on the personal stories of three women (the author, her mother, and grandmother), Wild Swans nevertheless manages to encompass sweeping changes in China, from foot-binding and concubines to the rather more modern horrors of Maoism. This is a story of war and unrest, but amid the despair there is always hope, and ordinary people struggling to do the right thing - or at least to survive.
Chang is the product of a unique family situation. Her grandmother was the concubine of a warlord, and her parents had significant offices within the Communist party, so she is able to take a broad view of Chinese history while illustrating with personal examples - while her personal escape into England enables her to discuss China's issues frankly. This is a rich, expressive, wonderful, horrifying book that was only improved by re-reading.