"I have made London my home. For ten years, I avoided thinking about the China I had left behind. Then in 1988, my mother came to England to visit me. For the first time, she told me the story of her... [more]
"I have made London my home. For ten years, I avoided thinking about the China I had left behind. Then in 1988, my mother came to England to visit me. For the first time, she told me the story of her life and that of my grandmother. When she returned to Chengdu, I sat down and let my own memory surge out and the unshed tears flood my mind. I decided to write 'Wild Swans.' The past was no longer too painful to recall because I had found love and fulfillment and therefore tranquility."
Jung Chang's road to tranquility was not a smooth one, but her surge of memory has served her well as an artist. "Wild Swans" is a rousing biographical/historical account of Chang's family and its participation in contemporary Chinese history. Its tortured tones and awkward prose suggest that the book's production was a difficult process both linguistically and emotionally.
Chang is not a native speaker of English and the fine points of the idiom elude her even as she masterfully communicates her family's frustrated experience with the Chinese Revolution and the often-indecipherable word of Mao. The result, though sometimes prosaic, is an excellent historical account rendered in an unfamiliar tongue to a foreign audience.
Chang was born in China in 1952, and during her youth she was briefly a part of the Red Guard. Despite the indoctrination, she eventually rejected the philosophies of the political system; in "Wild Swans," her tone towards China's communist regime is filled with disbelief and ire. Some of her stories are already familiar. After the revolution, many were shocked to find themselves accused as criminals by the new government. Poverty was the result of the less prudent bureaucratic policies. Farmers and workers were unable to produce the magical numbers that Mao sometimes pulled from the air in an effort to portray the nation as infinitely resourceful.
However, the "commies are coming" scare tactics have lost their currency since the Cold War ended, and they certainly are not what makes Chang's work stimulating. What is most interesting is her insistence upon maintaining affection for China while still carving a niche as an intellectual trained in Western discourse (she obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics from York University in 1982, making her the first Chinese national to earn a doctorate degree from a British university). What might continue to make her compelling as a writer is her experience as an expatriate and her astute historical sense. [show less]