Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since reading Plath's unabridged journals, I've developed a slight phobia for literary tomes but Jung Chang's Wild Swans has reminded me what a pleasure it is to tackle hundreds of pages. An introspective, detailed memoir/family biography that does not on any page expunge the details of the Cultural Revolution's atrocities, Wild Swans traces Chang's family history from the KMT years prior Mao's rise to power to Chang's departure for Britain after Mao's death.

Having studied the Cultural Revolution last year, I was able to link much of my academic knowledge with the personal traumas Chang and her family underwent (e.g. countryside reforms, August rallies), which enhanced my read; moreover, since I'm Chinese, much of what I read struck home. It is astounding to consider how an entire generation was crushed and confined by a single puppeteer - Mao - who built for himself a 形象 so godlike that even in the darkest days of the revolution it remained incontestable. I'm glad I escaped it. It even took Chang, the daughter of 'class-enemies' and at one time even a Red Guard herself, to doubt Mao only after the revolution was well-over even though she had experienced the chaos and brainwashing first-hand.

When Chang came to England, all she wanted to do was forget about her past. Yet when her mother left her after a visit - 10 years later - with 60 hours worth of tape recordings, she knew she had to write it all down.

It may be near-impossible to condense such a past and trove of dark memories into a book, but the matter-of-fact (and at times poignant) way in which Chang chronicles her past - and that of millions of Chinese - sews this book together, making it not only readable but also immensely memorable.

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