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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.