WHEN I was at the Salisbury Journal Education Awards a couple of weeks ago, the talk on my side of the table (I’m nothing if not predictable) turned to books. What are your all-time five favourite novels? someone asked. That’s the type of question that can take someone like me all of time to answer. But if the question had been widened out to include non-fiction as well, I know what one of my answers would have been.

In 1991, the author Jung Chang published her book Wild Swans. This was the extraordinary story of China in the twentieth century, writ both large and small. Chang used the structure of telling the history of her homeland through the lives of ‘Three Daughters of China’ as she described it: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. Each had a remarkable tale in their own right: Chang’s grandmother was sold to an ageing warlord in 1924: her mother became a communist under the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-Shek; Chang’s own narrative tells of living through the Cultural Revolution, working as both a red guard and barefoot doctor.

As you can see from the photo, my copy of Wild Swans is much travelled and devoured. A friend brought me a copy for my twenty-first birthday, and it remains one of the most outstanding books I have ever read: eye-opening in terms of explaining the history I barely knew, and written in an arresting, accessible style that was the very opposite of the dry history books I read at school.

I was far from the only person to be moved by Wild Swans. The book won the 1992 NCR Book Award (the forerunner of the Samuel Johnson Prize) the British Book of the Year for 1993 and was voted number 11 in Waterstones’ Books of the Twentieth Century poll. Depending on which figures you believe, it has sold between 10 and 15 million copies: either way, it is widely considered to be the biggest selling non-fiction paperback in recent history. The book has gone on to be translated into 37 languages – a bestseller everywhere apart from mainland China, where Chang’s books remain banned.

This October sees the publication of Jung Chang’s latest remarkable book: Big Sister Little Sister Red Sister, telling the story of the influential Soong sisters, three women who in their different ways shaped the course of modern Chinese history. The fact the book is published the week of the Salisbury Literary Festival was too good an opportunity to miss. We’ve got an amazing line up of authors this year, as described elsewhere, but for me, being able to welcome Jung Chang to Salisbury Cathedral on Friday, October 18 is that extra bit special.