Wild Swans is the UK’s “best-loved nonfiction book”

I’m a bit surprised, but that’s what the survey says.

Jung Chang’s epic family saga Wild Swans has been named Britain’s best-loved work of non-fiction after more than 5,000 participants in The Telegraph’s Real Read survey – held in conjunction with the book chain Ottakar’s – voted for their favourite non-fiction books.

Readers were given a list of 100 titles when voting opened last month, but could select any others they preferred.

The rest of the top 10 favourites were, in order of votes received: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson; Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie; Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals; The Diary of Anne Frank; Stalingrad by Antony Beevor; Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes; James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small; Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom; and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and very grateful to the readers,” Jung Chang said yesterday.

The popularity of Wild Swans, the Chinese-born novelist’s first book, has been more than borne out by its sales history. Subtitled Three Daughters of China, it has sold more than two million copies since its publication in 1991. It is believed to be Britain’s fastest selling non-fiction book.

With some reservations, I enjoyed Wild Swans, which I “reviewed” here last year. I wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 list for nonfiction, but I would strongly recommend you read it if you want to learn what life in China was like from the 1920s through the Cultural Revolution. (It certainly taught me just how awful a practice footbinding was, as I detail in my review.)

The Discussion: 3 Comments

I’m not that surprised. It consistently comes in the top 10 for books in Australia and New Zealand too.

In Hong Kong I used to make it an assignment for my senior students to read it during their summer holidays, and I used to get comments back from them about how it was the best book they ever read, and how they had previously thought it was just a book for westerners, but now they thought every Chinese person should read it etc …

May 15, 2004 @ 1:44 am | Comment

Yes, every Chinese person should read it. It’s a great book, if imperfect. I just had no idea it was so popular; thanks for letting me know.

May 15, 2004 @ 12:00 pm | Comment

I ‘m moved by people like her father, but I hate officials like her mother. They were so corrupted later on and so selfish and greedy in arranging the best positions for their own incapable children and relatives, thus deprived the poor-background college students of their equal rights in obtaining any suitable positon since 1987, which was the main cause of the 1989 massacre of us students. There is a nonsense description of the historical woman in Jung Chang’s story. She described that the girl who was to be a concubine of the ancient emperor committed suicide by jumping into the river. But the fact is just the opposite: The farmer’s daughter, Wang Qiang from Xingshan County of Hubei Province was elected to the palace and became a maid because her family didn’t bribe the painter who thus deliberately painted her picture with a scar under her eye to show that she is a bad omen. When the King had trouble with the Mongolians, he decided to marry his daughters to the head to make peace. No one wanted to go. Then Wang Qiang told the king she would like to go. And she was married away and made the north of China peaceful for many years although she died very young because of the bad weather and nostalgia. Now People still worship her and celebrate her as a national heroine. How could Jung Chang tell such white lie to cater to the westerners? Miss Chang is creating terror for readers by describing death and death and death. She is disgusting in this aspect. I despise the three women she described, especially her mother, though I’m not a communist Party member and suffered from th cultural revolution likewise.

May 30, 2004 @ 4:52 pm | Comment

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