Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, was published in 1975 and is a memoir of Kingston's experiences growing up in the United States as a Chinese-American. Because Kingston's experiences are also infused with Chinese folklore and elements of non-fiction, The Woman Warrior is not your typically standard memoir.

The book is divided into five parts which mostly contain stories about the narrators family life and the cultural differences between her parents (who were born in China) and their children (first generation Americans.)

I did struggle with the first couple of stories in this book and in particular the second chapter which was titled 'The White Tiger'. It took me a while to get used to the narration which seemed to change quite suddenly from the past to the present and I had trouble getting a sense of the characters that were introduced. The White Tiger told the story of a Chinese legend (from reading it I would say this sounded like Mulan but I could be wrong) of a female warrior who takes her fathers place during battle. I struggled with this section of the book and it just seemed out of place within the family stories, I'm afraid I couldn't really see why this chapter was in there but this could be because of ignorance on my part.

The last three stories I loved. Perhaps I had gotten used to the writing style or perhaps its because the stories started to focus on her families experiences as emigrants, but I found the last three chapters flowed and I found them interesting and highly enjoyable. It interested me that the narrator is torn between Chinese culture and the culture that she was born into. Although she is torn between the two cultures, she tries to embrace both which sometimes bring her into conflict with her parents.

While there are some funny moments in the book there are also shocking moments as the narrator relays stories about the treatment of girls in China as told to her by her mother. Her mother is quite a prominent character in most of the stories and her story of how she came to America from China and what life was like back in China is often referred back to throughout.

Would I recommend this? Overall yes. I did not read this book as a overall emigrant experience or as a blueprint for every Chinese-American experience, it also has to be taken into account that this was written more than 30 years ago, but reading it as the authors own personal experiences I found it thought provoking, funny and an enjoyable read.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess


  1. How interesting that I saw this post today, as I just picked up a new book on the Chinese immigrant experience called "The Lucky Ones." It would be curious to see how this new book compares with this one written thirty years ago...either way, it sounds like this is quite a worthwhile read :)

  2. I thought that the Fa Mu Lan part was good because it was written in first person, like she was trying to live vicariously through the story. And then it contrasted sharply with her American life, and expectations.

    But it is a good book, anyways!

  3. I read this earlier this year and like you, liked it well enough to finish but didn't think it was outstanding. There just seemed to be something missing... On a related note, Maxine Hong Kingston is coming out with another book in early 2011 - another non-fiction that details her Chinese-American identity. That one could be worth a try, but I think I'll wait to see what kind of reviews it gets.

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  5. I read this book about a year and a half ago and, like you, it took me a little getting into. But, once I got used to the style, I loved it. Good review!

  6. TheBookGirl - I think it would differ quite alot because when Maxine's parents went over to the states it was just before the rise of Communism in China so they had family back in China suffering somewhat because of that. Interesting what a difference 30 years can make!

    Toni - when you put it like that it makes sense (I did say it could have been ignorance on my part) I am glad I kept reading though as I would have really missed out otherwise.

    Brenna - it was the only first couple of stories I have problems with which is a shame as the rest I really liked. I think I'll check out the reviews of the new book first though like you.

    Pete - glad you agree! this is a book I would have never picked up if I wasn't doing my American Lit project and I'm very glad I did.