|Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang
narrated by Joy Osmanski
This contains spoilers.
Wild Swans is the memior of Jung Chang’s childhood in China during the Cultural Revolution, but it’s not only about her. She begins with the story of her grandmother.
Jung Chang’s grandmother was a concubine to a warlord. She had to use charm and wit to keep herself safe from being held prisoner by the warlord’s family – as she was considered the property of the warlord and of his legitimate wives. Upon her warlord’s death, she made the very difficult decision to marry, which caused many problems for her, her new husband, and potentially her afterlife (in which her husband and warlord would cut her in half to share her). This story delves into great detail about the strife that Jung Chang’s grandmother had to overcome. Now that I’m familiar with how foot binding works I will shudder every time I hear mention of it. I never realized….
The next section of the book is about Jung Chang’s mother, who grew up mainly during the strife between her mother and her stepfather’s family. WWII was also raging, which meant occupation and brutalization by the Japanese. (This was the most difficult section for me to read.) Once the Japanese occupation ended, their country was ruled by tyranny, thus bringing on the communist uprising. Jung Chang’s mother became deeply involved in the Communist Party while very young, but felt betrayed by The Party by the time she was pregnant with her first child.
The final section talks about Jung Chang’s childhood, watching the Communist Party emotionally and physically torture those around her, including her parents. She vividly portrays the original innocence that she had – believing in the communist party and Mao’s propaganda. Slowly, gently, she began to emerge from this innocence. More gracefully than would be expected, given what was going on around her. That speaks to the power of Mao’s campaign.
This was a fascinating and beautifully written book. It’s written lovingly, yet it’s brutally honest. The research is so amazing that every once in a while I wondered “how does she know that?” Her years’ worth of research definitely paid off. This book deserves the fantastic worldwide sales that it has received. I am tempted to read Jung Chang’s biography of Mao pretty soon.
|Sons (The Good Earth Book 2)
by Pearl S. Buck, narrated by Adam Verner
This second book of The Good Earth trilogy picks up exactly where the first book, The Good Earth, left off. Wang Lung, the protagonist of the first story, is on his deathbed and his sons solemnly promise not to sell this precious land. But as time passes, the men who have barely known the sweat and blood that went into that land begin to sell it off piece by piece. Meanwhile, Wang “The Tiger” has become a rising warlord. In distant parts of China, a revolution is gaining force. The story takes place in a time of warlords between between Imperial China and WWII. It focuses most of its attention on Wang the Tiger and his slow rise to power, though it jumps over to Wang Lung’s other sons frequently.
This book was powerful – almost as powerful as the first. It was a story of disintegration and rebellion. It showed how dedicated sons of a hard-working land-owner can become soft and negligent with wealth. The sons of Wang Lung rebel against his wishes not to sell his land. Their sons become even softer and less willing to fight for the wealth they’ve been born into. And, of course, the seeds of revolution are rumored but never seen.
Buck’s writing is as subtle as it is powerful. I found myself learning a bit of Chinese history while listening, even though there was no outright explanation of what was going on. It just became clear. What’s more, it made me want to read more about the fall of Imperial China, the time of warlords, and the subsequent revolution. To me, the fact that she can teach and make me crave to learn more shows what a fantastic author she is. I definitely recommend that everyone interested in classics pick up a copy of The Good Earth. And if they really enjoyed it, this is a fantastic sequel.
In the early 1930’s the Chinese city of Nanking was occupied by Japanese soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers to save money for supplies. Women were brutally raped and mutilated. But the stories of these victims and the foreigners who risked their lives to help them are not often told. Iris Chang wanted the world to know about these atrocities. Her brutal history was very difficult for me to read because the atrocities were described in such detail that I felt sick. I had to take frequent breaks. But it was a very engaging narrative, so I always wanted to pick it back up again. Chang certainly knew how to write an interesting story! Several times while reading the book, though, I felt as though Chang was too emotionally involved to write a completely reliable narrative. I’m not denying the massacres at Nanking, mind, but I think Chang had a very anti-Japanese view which would have made her prefer the larger estimates for death numbers, made especially-brutal rapes sound more common than they may have been, and made the Japanese sound purely evil as a whole group without exception. Nevertheless, this book taught me a lot about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. As long as the readers keep in mind Chang’s emotions, they can learn a lot from this engaging history.
I now have a hankering for a nice book about friendly, likable Japanese people. If you have any suggestions, let me know! 🙂