Something about the cover of this novel made me think it would be a little more “Memoiry” by which I mean clearly written for a very broad audience, skewing younger. This LOOKS like the kind of book I remember being given a bunch of times as a kid of someone growing up in a very different world than my own in order to show me the plurality of experiences. And maybe it kind of is. But what I can’t help notice is how much my Western viewpoint (other than this being written in English) is not at all catered to. This makes the book infinitely more interesting. It’s still a straighforward narrative delivered in a more or less dry way (I mean it’s good, but it’s not strictly artful by design). So while there’s plenty of very very good writing throughout this novel, this isn’t that kind of memoir.
It’s a history told through the experiences of Jung Chang, the daughter of a high government official, early revolutionary and her mother, an earnest, but ill-suited Communist Party member). Her relatively high position gave her access to lots of experiences to tell this beyond the story of a family, although it definite does this too.
This novel is also a marathon and not a jog or a sprint. You are in this book for almost 600 pages and are told a lot of history. Be prepared for the whole history of the rise of Mao, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. You are subjected to a pretty full accounting of party ideology told by someone who grew up in it, and believed in it, and saw its faults.