Hosted each month by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, the Six Degrees of Separation meme picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps.
This month’s starting point is Jung Chang’s wonderful memoir of three generations of women in her family, Wild Swans. I remember loving this when it first came out, and I’m going to stick with Mao’s China for my first link…
Red Star over China by Edgar Snow
When I was at uni, we scientists had to choose a humanities subject for two term – and I chose modern history, which covered the Cuban Missiles Crisis and Mao’s China. I wrote my final essay on Mao using this book as my main source of info. It was written in 1937 (revised in 1968) and was based on many interviews with Mao and the other top leaders. As such it presented a rather more sympathetic view than we have nowadays! For my next link I’m sticking with the Communists and Red but moving to Russia for:
Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
What many people don’t know is that years before Arthur Ransome wrote the children’s classics, including Swallows and Amazons, for which he is so fondly remembered, he lived and worked in Russia at the time of the revolution; this is chronicled in the above fictional biography of his time there, and his love affair with Evgenia, Trotsky’s secretary. Sedgwick’s novelisation is no dry biography. He starts by using fairy tale to tell the problems of the people, embodied by a great Russian bear spurred into action against the Tsar by two friends arguing in the forest – they are Lenin and Trotsky. Although written with a YA audience in mind, I adored this book – read my full review here. Russian fairy tale is my link this time to:
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published earlier this year and reviewed here, this debut novel is a supremely colourful tale that combines high fantasy, family dynamics and all the prerequisites needed for a fairytale with the biting cold of the Russian winter. It is beautifully realised by debut author Arden. Her descriptions of the countryside and forest through the seasons and the hard work for all living there grounded the text in real life which, set against the otherworldliness of the fairytale elements, made this an enchanting and compelling story. One of the key characters is the Russian Frost King – and another novel with a character who embodies weather is:
The Man Who Rained by Ali Shaw
A stormchaser’s daughter settles in a small mountain town where, in the hills, she meets a young man with rain in his veins and a thunderstorm inside him. Shaw has a way with weaving magic so naturally into his novels. This one, his second, (reviewed here) draws its themes from folklore rather than fairytale which is full of “capricious weather characters” and the devil in all his guises. At an author event, Ali told us how he had wanted to think about a time where the weather was more elemental in people’s life, and to bring that feeling into a contemporary setting. I’m staying with weather – but of the non-magical kind for my next link:
Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind
The first Scandicrime novel from the husband and wife scriptwriting team behind some of Swedish TV’s biggest hits (including adaptations of Martin Beck, Arne Dahl and Wallander). this crime novel (reviewed here) was absolutely brilliant. I shall stay in Sweden for my final book:
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
This book is truly dark and horrific and needs a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl. There have been two film adaptations – I’ve not seen the American remake, but the Swedish original is wonderful. This is probably the best contemporary vampire novel that I’ve read (and I have read lots). See my review here.
So my six degrees this month have taken me from China to Russia via rainy mountains to Sweden with vampires. Where would yours take you?.
7 thoughts on “The Six Degrees of Separation Meme: Wild Swans”
Isn’t it fascinating how our chains are all so different? I haven’t read any of your books, and am most interested in Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick. When I was a child I loved Russian fairy tales and also Swallows and Amazons. I’m also drawn to The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which sounds another book I’d enjoy.
Both of these books are wonderful. The Sedgwick is in my Desert Island Library too.
Although I’m not usually into fairy tales and magic realism, The Man Who Rained sounds wonderful. Interestingly, I saw Hannah Kent and Tracy Chevalier speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival last week and they were talking about the importance of landscape in historical fiction, given that people used to live more ‘closely’ to nature and the seasons would have a greater impact on their wealth and even survival.
Ali Shaw is a local author and I’ve been lucky enough to meet him loads of times – good thing I love all of his three novels. He does the magic realism so well – I hate to call it magic realism.
Glad to find someone else who loved Wild Swans. Did you read Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah which came out a little later?
I didn’t get around to Falling Leaves – although I remember my mother enjoying that book. I’d love to re-read Wild Swans, but must admit I found her Mao biog a bit of a slog.
I havent read the Mao bio – I did buy the latest one about an Empress but its sitting on the shelf unopened