Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang: A Book Review

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Reading the book with turon, a famous Filipino delicacy

Thick. Voluminous. Its Flamingo edition has 696 pages. I laid it aside many times. I didn’t know how to finish it , but I wanted to  heap it soon onto the other books read and unread; I was obsessed with the other  new books I had splurged on. When I gave it a shot for the third time; I was so already excited  that  I was close to its real-life –saga ending. Then, I was stuck again, in some  harrowing  parts I had to understand by heart and turn over in my mind . There, I trudged along. I was almost cross-eyed at the figures and  facts I could grasp no more , tearing my hair  until I could  let out a deep breath. ( Heavy sigh) Finally, I was done . My verdict: I SHOULD HAVE READ IT ALL ALONG WHILE I WAS DEEPLY  ENGAGED IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE ON SOCIAL MEDIA DURING OUR NATIONAL PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Its vivid details could have been mesmerizingly engaging, heart-breaking, and eye-opening. Besides, I came back to my senses  that communism turns out to be an ineffective form of government after all. Also, out of my ignorance, somehow, I brushed upon some   historical facts about Mao Zedong, the man I have been curious about, or I could have been looking up to because of his numinous image.

One of the big challenges for a writer, particularly an autobiographer, is to write all the blow-by-blow accounts to make the book appear accurate and credible. There are instances that some are laconic with their stories; they only choose the situations which could be appealing to their audience. ( It’s a matter of marketing strategy, I guess.) Who could dare write a book that is so full of dramatic but petty details? Of course, padding the book could be intended to impress its audience. And I don’t think it’s Jung Chang’s intention.   Never mind its mind-boggling  and undermining Chinese names of persons, places, and technical words buzzed if you   don’t have these ears for language . You will still be abandoned to the waves of negative emotions each daughter draws off- pain, endurance, hopelessness, despair, cruelty, savageness, you name it. Whoa, woe to you. Sit tight! Make sure that you have this empty chest.

After all, the book is not just about novelizing Jung Chang’s experiences but a way of letting go of the past. She used this as the instrument for cauterizing all the  feeling and thoughts she had pushed to  the  darkest corners of her mind for a long decade under Mao Zedong’s  said totalitarian government. Also, through this book, she had rectified all the injustice her entire ancestors, particularly her parents and grandma, had suffered for a long time. She had the chance to clear of all the  political mud  slung against her families that went down in Chinese history, which was eventually expurgated after Mao Zedong’s  political failure.  At the same time, she had the chance to reminisce about the good memories which shaped her up as a strong and intelligent woman.  However, as far as I know, the New China has not recognized the essence of her book  yet  out of jingoism. In fact, it was banned when it was published  in 1992.

This book   has been translated into 37 languages. No doubt. Quite apart from its heart-breaking themes, it is worth reading because it opens our mind. It will probably change our view points of the social issues in our contemporary era. You will understand that every country has different culture when it comes to family, society, and politics. So, you might come to realize that all the cultures could be immoral but stuck up in a time warp, especially when   human dignity is   already trodden. Everything is changing as is nature. Nonetheless, after all, I can’t cry bloody murder  if such backward culture existed before ; it even did in our country, elsewhere. (Heavy sighs) Dare I say that we humans are still underdeveloped   even up to this day, or it is just a matter of the philosophy of  relativism? Look what is China now. North Korea. Some Middle East countries. The armpits of  Africa. Even in state-of-the-art European nations. Now the issue is Brexit if you are aware of its referendum.

The book’s theme Cultural Revolution  disabused me of that communism is not politically, socially, and economically feasible at all in a country that needs big social changes wherein all people should be ideally equal.  I have been enlightened as an idealistic citizen  that humans are fallible, that there is no such Utopia in a modern world. Evils have been part of the  natural laws  since the world began. ( heavy sigh)

Ever since I took to history subject, I have never had the clear details on Mao Zedong’s life. I was just tipped off  that he was a cruel president of China , that he killed many babies, that he was revered as god. However, Jung Chang did not describe him much in the book. She was too euphemistic about him as though she still respected him despite all the pains China had suffered. In the end, I was not satisfied.  I am still more  curious about him . Who is Mao Zedong? Fiddlesticks! A red thick biography  about him that  I always see in a  premier book store is now sparking my curiosity. The good thing is Jung Chang and her husband Jon Halliday wrote a biography about him : Mao: The Unknown Story. Interesting! As a matter of fact, she wrote another biographies about  Empress Dowager Cixi and  Madame Sun Yat- Sen. I hope to luck out and find them!

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s undeniably amazing.)

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Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: A Book Review

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I was imagining if I were one of those people imprisoned in Auschwitz, what would have I done? Would have I been able to survive the suffering I could have endured, especially the nerve-racking  fear of the gas chamber? I think I wouldn’t have because I would have been chosen to be ushered into the right path;they would have found me  physically and politically useless, inferior , or undesirable (unless they would have taken into consideration my passion for epistemology) : I am a wee bit skinny-boned and hard-hearing. The SS, a unit of Nazis in charge of the mass extermination, would have given me a distaste look and hit in my flat abdomen. Ugh, what a miserable life species I would have been! But lo and behold, Victor Frankl said that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. So, my death would not have been nothing; it would   have been meaningful. Not that I know of.

Victor Frankl , a Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist, recounted the heart-twitching memories he had experienced in Auschwitz. Therein lied the indelibly abject miseries he went through with other inmates under the SS, of how he suffered a lot in the camp   with a meager of food and water, of how he brought himself to sleep with other inmates in one bed that was inhabited by mites aplenty, soaked with pee and dung, in a shirt that was almost tattered and rugged. And the throat-slashing one was the uncertainty, having no idea of when an inmate could be locked up and immolated in the gas chamber… Indeed, a person like me living in this generation   does not have the atom of   imagination of how Frankl’ s  life was a total hell.

From the beginning to the end of his historical accounts, the leitmotif that bore down on me is the gas chamber.( As a matter of fact, I dreamed about it before  after reading Anne Frank’s Diary , of how she ended up in that place.) Whenever Frankl described the story and explained the idiosyncratic behavioral patterns of his inmates, I could not  take off my mind the  chamber which  every inmate at that time  feared most. I didn’t mind the imaginary descriptions  and illustrations  of how those inmates were starved to death, malnourished and thirsty for clean water, pica for nonnutritious food, living with gangrenes as long as the chamber would not be mentioned. Like Frankl’s fellow inmates, I also tended to be paranoid about it imagining how  people found inferior died inside that big room. What a hair-raising and heartbreaking   scene it could have been!

Aside from  his experiences in a concentration camp , Frankl also included in this book  his discussion about   logotherapy in a nutshell and the case for a tragic optimism.

When Frankl was in the different concentration camps, he observed not only himself but also his inmates how they would react to such a hellhole. Most of them became hopeless, apathetic, bitter, disillusioned. Some were suicidal.  Eventually, using his background in medicine, he came up with   logotherapy to help some of them survive. In this therapy, a patient is helped to find the meaning of his/ her life as the primary motivational force. It focuses on the future, on the meanings a patient wants to fulfill in the future.

Before I just had the idea that life is a question of existentialism, but logotherapy  dawned upon me that  we can discover this meaning in life   in three different ways: (1)by creating a work or doing a deed; (2)by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward un avoidable suffering.( p.133)

What caught my interest was the real meaning of existentialism which I took to when I studied psychology. I was enlightened  when  Frankl  clearly discussed that the term “ existential” may be used in three ways to refer to : (1) existence itself; (2) the meaning of existence;  and (3)the striving to find the concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning. ( p.123)

The last part discusses the real meaning of a “ tragic optimism”. In brief it means  that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “ tragic triad,”  such as pain , guilt, and death.

The  most important thing that I have learned , proved in effect, is that LOVE indeed  is the most powerful emotional element in the universe. This is the last resort a man in dire can turn to , aside from God he/she believes in ( but I don’t ) , in order to survive.

Since it is a memoir focusing on the concept of logotherapy, the book is not as ambitious as other famous ones. I wonder if it could be a hit should it have been written  like a novel.

For the third time, I have failed to catch my dream: to study in graduate school. I missed it due to some personal reasons. I have been so depressed that I  might never be interested in it anymore.To protect my ego from this soul-devastating frustration, I thought that I might just spend my life reading the books I have been storing for a  long time or writing  short stories I have  always wanted to  do . However, I still can’t get over this ambitious fiasco. Sometimes, I blame myself for not being a risk taker. Nevertheless, this book has reminded me of my favorite philosophy that life is a matter of choice; I am responsible for the life I want to choose.

” He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche-

Rating: 3/ 5 ( I liked it.)