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Daunt Books and Wild Swans


I went to Daunt Books in Marylebone for the first time last week. I’m a bit of a tourist when it comes to finding unusual bookshops. I’d heard a lot about it and seen a few of its bags floating around London. The interior is Edwardian according to their website and it was stunning – a mini cathedral of books.

Interior of Daunt Books

Daunt Books, Marylebone

Daunt Books specialises in travel books I believe and this means that many of the books are arranged by geography. As I browsed the shelves, I found travel guides, travel writing, history and fiction from the country concerned. As I am going to China this summer, I gravitated towards that section. I am definitely going to read some Chinese literature and history books before I go, but was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the choice in Daunt at the time. I have since found some suggested reading lists which have helped me narrow it down. Do you have any recommendations?

The only book I have read about China that I can remember is Wild Swans. I read this almost ten years ago now I think, but I still remember the emotional power of it. Written by Jung Chang, this book tells the biographies of three women in one family; Jung Chang’s grandmother, mother and herself. It shows recent Chinese history through the lens of three very personal stories and I found it very moving. I believe that Wild Swans is banned in China. This very interesting interview with Chang suggests that censorship in China is getting worse rather than better. I find it astonishing that general censorship and specifically the Great Firewall of China holds. Maybe one day it will fall but, in the meantime, I will certainly be interested to visit a country that is poised on the edge of being a world power and yet in so many ways is so traditional – no, traditional is not the right word – authoritarian or controlling may be better. I hope the literature I plan to read before I go will help me to understand China a little better than I do now.

3 thoughts on “Daunt Books and Wild Swans

  1. Pingback: China | chestnut book blog

  2. A recommendation, then, from a Daunt’s employee sounds like what you need! I recently read Sea of Ink, a short novel set in China in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ming dynasty, published recently by Peirene Press, and though it was spectacular. Another great piece of historical fiction is Rive of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, set in Canton (modern Guangzhou and Hong Kong), the second in his projected trilogy set in the run up to the opium war.

    Non fiction I HIGHLY reccomend Fusia Dunlop’s Sharks Fin ans Sichuan Pepper, a memoir/cookbook that will get you in the culinary mood (and starving!), and more historically, Jonathan Fenby’s History of Modern China and Jasper Beckers hisroty of Beijing (all linked below) are great on the more serious side.

    Glad you liked the shop, we hope to see you again soon!

    shameless plugs:

    • Thanks Luke, it certainly was! I’ll check those recommendations out and let you know. I’m also thinking about venturing into The Story of the Stone / Dreams of Red Chamber now I’ve done a bit of research so I’m excited to start reading! Thanks again!

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