Jung Chang – Wild Swans

Jung Chang – Wild Swans (1991)

A story of 20th century China, told through the eyes of the author, a teenager during the Cultural Revolution, her mother, a Communist official, and her grandmother, the foot-bound concubine of a 1920s warlord.

Recommended: Strongly. This book makes the case for biography as the superior form of history. The strongest parts deal with the road from the stern idealism of Jung Chang’s parents, high officials in 50s China, to the country-scale madness of the Cultural Revolution. It captures brilliantly how an entire society tears itself apart to serve the ambitions of a handful of sociopaths. It’s not the scale of the event that sticks with me, but the way this madness seeps into every single aspect of life, the way it seems to touch, ruin, or bring out the worst in, everyone. It would be hard to capture that story better than in this triple biography.

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