The Woman Warrior | book review


Title: The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts
Author: Maxine Hong Kingston
Series: n/a
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1976
Genre(s): Memoir, Asian-American, Creative non-fiction

Opening Line:

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you.”

The Synopsis

Maxine Hong Kingston grew up in America as a Chinese-American in the shadow of the Chinese Revolution. Her life, though very American, was deeply influenced by Chinese culture. Through her memoir, Maxine combines Chinese folklore with her own interpretations and her own life in America.

The Plot

Book #3 of my Asian-American lit class and I’m still not developing a love for the genre. I guess you could say I appreciate it, but my interest goes no further than that. Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir isn’t a typical memoir; rather, it’s a collection of memoirs intertwined with old Chinese folktales, like the story of Fa Mu Lan (arguably the most interesting part of the whole book). The book is divided into five chapters, each reading almost like a collection of short stories. The book opens with Kingston’s mother telling a story about Kingston’s aunt, the “no name woman” after which the chapter is named. The story is a very dark way to begin a book, but it’s a great way of grabbing readers’ attention. After that, though, my interest faded and I pretty much just read the book because I have to. Honestly, the book didn’t even seem like a memoir to me. I thought the memories Kingston chose to share were very random and oftentimes it seemed like the book was written by her mother. Kingston had so many details seemingly from her mother’s point of view, and at times even from her dead aunt’s point of view. How could she even know these things? I guess it just threw me off, but then again, it’s not supposed to be a typical memoir — it’s more of a work of creative non-fiction. The stories of Chinese folklore were easily the most interesting parts to read about. In general, though, I’m just glad to have finished it…

The Characters

As always with memoirs, I’m not quite sure what to write about here, seeing as I cannot judge people as I can fictional characters. I have to say I disliked most of the people in this book, though. I did not like Kingston as a narrator. I was not captivated by her recollection of her life and I did not like her personality. She was very honest about herself, though, so I’ll give her credit for that. I hated her mother. I guess there’s this divide between myself and these people because I’m just a white American, but there’s my opinion anyway.

The Writing

Kingston’s writing wasn’t necessarily bad. I suppose it was a little hard to follow along, but I didn’t have a problem with her writing so much as I did with the content and the structure. I know this is a very popular, critically-acclaimed book, but I did not enjoy it. I appreciate it, of course, and I sympathize with Kingston’s experiences, but I would not read this again. The professor of this Asian-American lit class always talks about the importance of re-reading a text because each time you read the book, you are a different person than you were when you previously read it. I completely agree with that and have experienced it for myself, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to willingly pick up this book again. Harsh, but I just could not get into it. (You people probably think I’m a biased, uncultured asshole after being so negative towards all these Asian-American texts…but I don’t even care)

My Rating

2.5 star

Favorite Quote(s): “Why, the wrong lighting could erase the dearest thing about him.”

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