Now that I have finished, I can fully recommend this book.
It was a beautiful story of family. It is an honest book; Jung Chang tells about her parents' good attributes as well as any major flaws or mistakes they made. She tells it all and doesn't candy coat and yet it is also a book about forgiveness and love. All three of the women, each in her own kind of China, are strong women of good character. They all have a remarkable story that in itself is a worthy read.
But Chang doesn't just give us a wonderful story about extraordinary people fighting terrible odds. That book has been written countless times. No, she also gives us an understanding of twentieth century China, of Mao, Communism and the Cultural Revolution. She teaches about mind control, the banishment of one class structure only to give rise to a different one, and explains how the Chinese believed, really believed in something and were totally duped. We mourn when ancient statues are blow apart, weep when the valuable rice-paper books are burned, and feel our hearts fail us when Mrs. Shau knocks at the door to take away the best leaders Communism could produce. For the first time, I understand why Mao had such power, why "there are children starving in China," and the reasons behind foot binding (and the reasons behind the ending of such a practice). Chang takes us with her as she first worships Mao as deity, then, slowly, comes to realize who he really is and what he has really done. And we understand why she has to pretend to cry, for her own protection, when he dies.
It is not an easy read, but, oh, is it worth it!
PS As a side, if you are fascinated with China, a few more things to recommend: A Good Earth by Pearl Buck and two movies, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Wild China (a six part documentary). I have another book and two more movies in my docket. I will let you know my opinion of them as I discover it.