In this heart-wrenching memoir written by Jung Chang, the true horrors of China under the Kuomintang and then under the Communists and Mao are detailed through the story of her life as well as the lives of her mother and grandmother. Though I have read about China in other stories, this particular account was just painful to read...mesmerizing and fascinating but the atrocities committed by the leaders and citizens of China are so far beyond my scope of understanding it was difficult for me to absorb it all. I feel inadquate to try to describe both what I read and my feelings about it.
The story begins with Jung Chang's grandmother who was a concubine to a chief of police in Peking and she gives birth to Chang's mother. After her first husband dies, she marries a doctor and they live through attacks from Japan and the Communists and the Kuomintang form an alliance to defeat them. Chang's mother joins the Communist underground and a civil war erupts between the former allies. Chang is born a few years after the Communists take over and over the course of twenty-six years she endures a stint in the Red Guard, the defamation and detention and torture of her parents, "reeducation" in the country and horrible illness. It is a life I cannot imagine.
The women in Wild Swans were trapped - truly trapped. Death was the only escape from the hardship, the fear, the pain. Certainly they had happy moments, but they were far outweighed by the horrible ones. The memoir contained vast amounts of historical information about China but it was so well written and integrated into the story that I didn't feel like I was reading a history book. A truly eye-opening book.