Tag Archives: Jung Chang

Best Of – International Women’s Day 2015

In addition to Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front which I posted here on Thursday, there are a number of other fantastic books I read this year written by great women. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my favourite female-penned books that I reviewed on the blog this year.

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)

AliasGraceLooking at the notorious 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, Atwood imagines the events surrounding the crime by focusing in on the culprit, Grace Marks. She twists the story and even though Grace is the protagonist, the reader never gets full image of who she is. Through her writing, Atwood seeks to give Grace a voice and a point of view and does so in such an interesting way.

Jung Chang – While Swans (1991)        

wild_swans

It’s the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial rule to the death of Mao Ze Dong. The story is beautifully written with elements of both humour and tragedy as Chang recounts her own life growing up with Communist rule in China. It’s about China, but also about mothers and daughters and the enduring bonds that women share.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

GoneGirlFlynn’s phycological thriller got people talking this year, especially with the release of the movie just this past fall. Flynn is a good writer, not great, but she does have this understanding of the “cool girl” syndrome, something I think all women and girls are familiar with. That men always want the “cool girl,” the effortlessly hot woman who doesn’t care if he all he does is drink beer and hang out with his friends. That ideal however doesn’t exist, and sometimes, that “cool girl” can end up being a psychopath. It’s a good book that will play with your head and test your assumptions about gender and relationships.

Caitlin Moran – How to be a Woman (2011)

Caitlin MoranIt’s hard to love Caitlin Moran, she tells it like it is and makes no apologies. She writes openly and honestly about her abortion, something that I don’t think many women would do. She is smart, funny, and quick in her writing providing readers with sound advice and hilarious anecdotes about what it means to be a woman.

Azar Nafisi – Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

ReadingLolitainTehranIn this literary memoir, Azar Nafisi writes about her experience, as a teacher of classical English literature living in Post-Revolutionary Iran. She and a select few of her student start a “forbidden” book club which moves from being place for scholarly discussion, to one where these young women can share their deepest hopes, dreams, and fears about the future. It’s about books bringing women together at a time and place when circumstance is threatening to tare them apart. It’s a poignant and charming read about the lasting bonds of female friendship.

So there you have it, what are some of your favourite books about what it means to be a woman?

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Jung Chang – Wild Swans (1991)

wild_swans

Think of this as kind of a really life Amy Tan novel; the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial Rule through to the death of Mao Ze Dong. Chang tells her family’s story in a beautiful and illuminated way.

Chang begins with her grandmother, who grew up poor but was taken as a concubine to a high-ranking warlord through the scheming of her father. Despite living in luxury and seeing her husband only every couple of years, her life was still tense and she was never allowed to visit her parents’ home, even after giving birth to her daughter. When the General fell ill, Chang’s grandmother realized that her daughter would be taken away from her by the General’s first wife and fled, sending false word that her daughter had died. She then married a much older doctor and settled into a simple life in Manchuria.

The story now moves to Chang’s mother, a strong willed independently minded woman who became completely drawn to working for the Communist Party of China. Chang’s father was also working for the Communist Party and the two fell in love, but still insisted on putting the needs of the party first. The Cultural Revolution started when Chang was a teenager and her part of the story deals with the tumultuous political landscape in China, including her parents fall from favour and the slander, gossip, and corruption that ran rampant throughout the nation. She details her experience being sent into the countryside and the pointlessness of many of Mao’s reforms, now with the benefit of hindsight. Chang ends with her decision to leave China to study in England and how her views have changed since leaving. She is still permitted to visit family in mainland China, although her book was banned in the People’s Republic of China.

The unique perspective and storytelling ability made this a joy to read. Chinese history is fascinating, and being narrated through the voices of three women provides a unique perspective. While Chang has the benefit of hindsight when writing, her experiences living in China under Mao are highly detailed and interesting to read.