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The Woman Warrior Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is Kingston's disturbing and fiercely beautiful account of growing up Chinese American in California The young Kingston lives in two worlds the America to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother's talk stories Her mother tells her traditional tales of strong wily women warriors tales that clash puzzlingly with the real oppression of women Kingston learns to fill in the mystifying spaces in her mother's stories with stories of her own engaging her family's past and her own present with anger imagination and dazzling passion


10 thoughts on “The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

  1. says:

    This was an intense book full of both women's power and violence against women set against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution and the emigration of many Chinese people fleeing Mao to California It is a mixture of autobiography and folklore and is beautifully written Maxine Hong Kingston received the National Book Award for this book in 1977 and remains a feminist activistThe book itself talks of the China of her parents she was born in the US after her father emigrated in 1940 using the voice of her mother and herself as well as a mystical woman warrior It is highly poetic at times such as when Maxine's grandmother still in China sends her sweet tastes telepathically How large the world must be to make my grandmother only a taste by the time she reaches me p99The concept of identity pervades this work as Maxine's family is essentially country less the family in China is nearly wiped out by the revolution and their remaining property ceded to distant uncles that are still there and they fell isolated in the US surrounded by ghosts as they describe the white people around them I could not understand 'I' The Chinese 'I' has seven strokes intricacies How could the American 'I' assuredly wearing a hat like the Chinese have only three strokes the middle so straight? p 166My favorite part was the second chapter White Tigers where she describes a great woman warrior is trained in combat from the age of 7 to 22 by two old peasants and goes on to lead a peasant army It is highly inspirational to see such a strong female character And when this is contrasted to the No Name Woman in chapter 1 one can understand why strong female role models and fables were so important to Maxine's self esteem and sense of self worthI have visited China many times but primarily the metropolises and my contacts with Chinese people have not been very deep I was reminded of this by the scene in the last chapter A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe where Maxine is unable to get a word out of another girl who pretends to be mute except when she is reciting texts in class I suppose that the cumulated suffering destroys one's voice as one feels powerless that even speech is too difficult I did have one encounter years ago when I had dinner in Taiwan with a Chinese colleague whose family had fled with Chang Kai Shek to Taiwan following Mao's victory in the Chinese Civil War He tearfully described to me how his parents who were university professors had destroyed their fingers and backs digging trenches bare handed during the Cultural Revolution It was the rare moment when a Chinese person opened up to me about his suffering And yet that also bears some ambiguity because as bad was the Cultural Revolution was before that Mao had banned foot binding described several times in The Woman Warrior Nobody wrote to tell us that Mao himself had been matched to an older girl when he was a child and that he was freeing women from prisons where they had been put for refusing the businessmen their parents had picked as husbands Nobody told us that the Revolution the Liberation was against girl slavery and girl infanticide a village wide party if it's a boy Girls would no longer have to kill themselves rathe than get married May the Communists light up the house on a girl's birthday p 191 So as everything in history there are great ambiguities surrounding Mao This reminds me of the condemnation of Castro for his imprisoning of land owners and homosexuals all true but the relative ignorance of the improvements in education and medicine the best teams of doctors in any international crisis are bound to have a Cuban or in them Such is life I supposeThe Warrior Woman is a provocative and challenging voyage into Maxine Hong Kingston's life and dreams as a Chinese woman and remains a great piece of literature 40 years later


  2. says:

    ''I inspired my army and I fed them At night I sang to them glorious songs that came out of the sky and into my head When I opened my mouth the songs poured out and were loud enough for the whole encampment to hear my army stretched out for a mile'' A young girl lives among ghosts standing at the crossroads Her mother is a formidable woman a doctor and a shaman who tries to communicate with her children through the myths of their homeland But the child is confused she doesn't know where she belongs if she belongs at all Chinese traditions seem to teach and suffocate her at the same time and the American way does not speak to her heart Tradition isn't always the answer and change is necessary And the mother uses myths as a warning and reminder of a past that is now lost But the young girl has uestions Why is that a woman is always the one to blame? Why can't she love and live in peace? Why must we always be the victims of prejudices and regimes? Why is a woman warrior obliged to disguise herself as a man to protect her life? Do we not have the right to defend ourselves and decide our future? In many parts of the world the answer is still a firm ''NO'' ''I've found some places in this country that are ghost free'' In a superbly beautiful memoir Kingston presents a community whose memories have disappeared Families are broken husbands abandon their wives children are at a loss and everyone becomes ''people one read about in a book'' Assimilation seems impossible in a land that is faced with the Second World War and then tries hard to recover Kingston brilliantly blends Chinese folklore with autobiographical episodes and doesn't shy away from demonstrating her own cruelty as a teenager who was confused enraged and exhausted by the rules the codes the lack of communication and the pressure of following in her mother's footsteps The only refuge is ''talking story'' In stories in imagination and in creating distance between her and her family lies the chance for independence Divided into five episodes Kingston's memoir is a deeply personal commentary on womanhood culture folklore and the struggle of breaking free from what keeps you chained and gagged No Name Woman In one of the most haunting terrifying chapters I've ever read Kingston narrates the story of her aunt the woman without a name the sinner who must be forgotten who never existed White Tigers Kingston gives voice to the legendary heroine Fa Mu Lan whose presence permeates the memoir walking side by side with the countless ghosts Shaman The writer takes us back to her mother's youth her decision to follow her inclination and become a doctor However her most important gift is the ability to stand up to ghosts and exorcise them At the Western Palace In an episode that is both tender and bitter the mother's sister arrives in the USA to confront her husband There is an elegant sense of humor at the beginning of the chapter that becomes darker and darker until the shocking end A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe The writer goes back to her teenage years her awful days at schools her rage that led to unacceptable behaviour towards a classmate the presence of witches and hags in the community I was astonished by the candour and vehement rage of this chapterIf you choose to read one memoir in your life let this be the one ''Always hungry always needing she would have to beg food from other ghosts snatch and steal it from those whose living descendants give them gifts She would have to fight the ghosts massed at the crossroads for the buns a few thoughtful citizens leave to decoy her away from village and home so that the ancestral spirits could feast unharassed My aunt remains forever hungry Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead''''We're all under the same sky and walk the same earth; we're alive together during the same moment'' I would like to dedicate this review to my amazing colleague and dear friend Eva who is always full of bookish surprises and glorious ideas Thank you for everythingMy reviews can also be found on


  3. says:

    A five part genre bending work considering immigration class and Chinese American identity The Woman Warrior sketches a nuanced portrait of the artist as a young woman Mixing together myth and memoir fantasy and fact Kingston reflects on her childhood the lives of her mother and aunts and her awakening as a writer All five parts share common themes from the cultural gap between Chinese immigrants and their children to the debilitating effects of American racism The author writes precise cool prose and laces her work with caustic wit; the book reads as an engaging meditation on Chinese American girlhood and womanhood as well as an exploration of what it means to cope with ongoing trauma and gendered terror through storytelling Kingston experiments with perspective and representation in inventive ways and her debut rewards deliberate reading


  4. says:

    “You must not tell anyone what I am about to tell you” So begins Maxine Hong Kingston The Woman Warrior Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts Books with family secrets intrigue me and I remained engaged in Kingston's mix of myth memoir and perspectives on growing up and the immigrant experience throughout The chapters mixing the narrator's story along with her desire to reclaim familyidentity with myth were my favorite especially White Tigers Kingston writes with poignancy and beauty and there are layers of meaning in her prose Story telling is also a priority here along with the corresponding family dynamics and emphasis on cultural values and how they're passed on “Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America” I had considered my favorite Kingston book to be Tripmaster Monkey but might have to read the latter book again 45 stars


  5. says:

    Probably most intriguing about the structure of Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior beginning with No Name Woman” and ending in A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe” is that it characterizes Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir told in the interesting format of non seuential episodes as one that begins in oppressed silence but ends in universal song When looking at the three woman warrior figures in the book – her aunt the No Name Woman; the rewritten legendary warrior in “White Tigers” based upon the Mulan legend; and the poet and barbarian captive Ts’ai Yen – the characteristics that unite them all are their determined attempts at asserting their own kinds of power femininity and individuality in patriarchal Chinese society The methods through which they do so revolve around words written spoken or not spoken from the silence practiced by No Name Woman to the words written on the warrior’s back to the songs created by Ts’ai Yen and finally to the stories that Kingston as the author uses to find the marks of the woman warrior within herself and to do so in a way that allows the readers insight into a life that even the narrator is grappling to understand The words that open Woman Warrior which begins with the story of No Name Woman are uite interestingly an admonition of silence “’You must not tell anyone’ my mother said ‘what I am about to tell you’” 3 This admonition signifies a promise and a breaking of a promise The narrator’s mother Brave Orchid is showing courage and confidence in her daughter by sharing something that should not be remembered yet at the same time her mother is breaking the silence surrounding her sister in law the titled No Name Woman This is one of the first of many of the narrator’s mother’s talk stories ones that were told with a purpose to aid her children in life events while sealing the bond between child and mother The story of the woman warrior who is the protagonist of “White Tigers” is created in history and then transformed by the narrator into one of triumph through the breaking of silences Inspired by Kingston’s childhood and the stories of Yue Fei and Mulan the chapter becomes another way for the narrator to celebrate the breaking of silences something that continues throughout the book This union between mother and daughter the novel can be seen as the compromise of generations an idea carried out in Kingston’s appropriation of myths and stories seen in the retelling of these woman warriors Her mother in fact is the narrator’s guide of the methods in which to appropriate talk stories for her own purposes Kingston’s retellings are part of the idea that a culture growing up in one country can appropriate the lessons of their parents who grew up in another It is the idea and the hope that stories created by a patriarchal culture can still make room for its daughters ultimately one the most important ideas Kingston communicates in her beautifully rendered book


  6. says:

    45 starsThe Swordswoman of WordsThe Woman Warrior is Maxine Hong Kingston's own story of growing up Chinese American an irreconcilable position for her as the two cultures would seemingly clash unable to provide her with a stable sense of identity She grew up confused by the ideas and behavior of her parents and the villagers who had settled in Stockton California who saw their American born children as very strange not really Chinese Her parents hoped one day to return the whole family to China yet the China they had left had since changed All she knew of the place she had never been was through the 'talk stories' told by her mother; parables in the Chinese tradition of telling magical stories and incorporating them into their everyday life; of ancestors and relatives and great tales of mythic and cultural heroines Her mother was exceedingly gifted in talking story Night after night my mother would talk story until we fell asleep I couldn't tell where the stories left off and the dreams began her voice the voice of heroines in my sleep And on Sundays from noon to midnight we went to movies at the Confucius Church We saw swordswomen jump over houses from a standstill; they didn't even need a running startAt last I saw I too had been in the presence of great power my mother talking story After I grew up I heard the chant of Fa Mu Lan the girl who took her father's place in battle I had forgotten this chantgiven me by my mother who may not have known its power to remind She said I would grow up a wife and a slave but she taught me the song of the warrior woman Fa Mu Lan I would have to grow up a warrior woman In The Woman Warrior MHK constructs her own identity and the meaning of her life She places herself as the primary narrator in stories artistically woven with Chinese myth and legend including other women characters some known and unknown real and imagined The stories are highly imaginative; the narrative flows with wondrous elements of magical realism The book is sectioned into five chapters illustrating MHK's American experience No Name Woman tells the story of her aunt who was ostracized for having an illegitimate child; White Tigers weaves the story of Fa Mu Lan the mythical character to whom MHK most relates who goes to battle in her father's stead and saves a village; Shaman tells the story of her mother Brave Orchid becoming a doctor in the old country and her immigration to America; At The Western Palace covers her mother's sister Moon Orchid in her journey to California in the hope of reconciling with her estranged husband; A Song for A Barbarian Reed Pipe reflects a poignant message of preservation of an ebbing culture and a melding of the current onesMHK would often rebel against the stringent Chinese feminine model I refused to cook When I had to wash dishes I would crack one or two 'Bad girl' my mother yelled and sometimes that made me gloat rather than cry Isn't a bad girl almost a boy? She knew that she must become a warrior woman strong independent a fighter a burden to no one she won't be silenced She confessed to her mother that she too could 'talk story'; and how immeasurably gifted she was at thatHer power was wielded in language her 'loosened tongue' her voice; her sharpened pen became her sword her strengthIn an interview in the Atlantis publication jun nov 1988 Maxine Hong Kingston explained that she took care to find the force of reason within her stories the middle ground between the real world and the supernatural 'The Woman Warrior' was a vehicle for the many voices MHK heard within herself She hoped that her writings would give a voice to Chinese American women and that their everyday existence growing up in America within a traditional Chinese culture would be seen with compassion and understanding with a bright look toward a balanced resolution For MHK herself The Woman Warrior finally reconciled those clashes of the two cultures to the formation of a beautiful enduring identifiable new oneFirst read January 2009


  7. says:

    I'm writing this review up from my notes unfortunately as I read it when I was too busy to sit down and type It's one of the best memoirs I've ever read marked by sensitivity sorrow unresolvable conflict transformed into a breathtaking work of art an epic canvas unrolling intricacies and intimacies that made me miss my tube stop get the wrong train mix up bus routes so absorbed was I by the character of Brave Orchid the narrator's mother This woman she admires and fears and at times feels rejected and hated by whose behaviour is a mystery to her because she refuses to explain anything seems to expect her to raise herself Chinese in barbarian America a land of ghosts I felt the desire the narrator had to accomplish this feat her frustration at falling short of performing the impossible taskThis is a feminist text It opens with a story told by mother to daughter as a cautionary tale against promiscuity or rather the transgression of sexual boundaries about the death of a female relative The narrator given only the bones of this story and perhaps haunted by it has to imagine the details and does so repeatedly reorienting them each time to fit different perspectives first she rehabilitates her kinswoman's reputation by imagining her raped blameless caught in the fatal web of an intensely masculinist society Second she breathes life back into her by constructing a romance in which star crossed love comes to grief Finally she reviews the situation from the perspective of the villagers and family delicately explaining their actions with chiaroscuro And throughout each of these retellings she integrates the effect the story had on her life in the USA the way it changed how she thought about others' views of her and how she tried to behave socially The result is a braided story that binds women's lives across time and culture a half tested guide rope though hostile environments A rope is many things among them both saviour and weapon against oneself as well as othersRage at the position of girls is worked into wish fulfilling self mythologising in the delicate and poetic yet fierce story 'White Tigers' in which the narrator fantasises about doing what she imagines a girl must do to be valued Tellingly this includes assuming a male disguise but remaining a woman 'Marriage and childbirth strengthen the swordswoman who is not a maid like Joan of Arc' This protest story is a self made talisman for the narrator and it reflects images of Chinese culture that heal and sustain her suppressing the words that chafe and damage She makes her own empowerment by rooting down into her heritage not by rejecting it Parallel to this self care project of making images she can inhabit and revision herself through run the narratives through which she constructs her mother's humanity and inner life gradually building images of her she can make sense of and feel for Once again to me these vignettes illuminate an unfamiliar style of being yet one I can appreciate and respect 'the sweat of hard work is not to be displayed It is much graceful to appear favoured by the gods' Thus the narrator makes sense of her mother's secret night studying at medical school covering the tracks of her path to shining successAt times it was almost unbearable to read the things said about girl children vermin in rice for instance as an adult woman but the narrator was recalling hearing them as a child The little warrior screams in protest throws tantrums uncontained paints everything black refuses for years to speak How did Chinese girls in China avoid such anguish if they did? What did they learn that protected them? Or what on the other hand made the narrator vulnerable among ghosts to the rage and misery such hatred called forth from her? I remembered the miscommunications of The Joy Luck Club and how lucid Tan made them by working both sides playing out all the angles as omniscient author comforting me with the reassurance that however differently conflictedly and incommunicably mothers and daughters loved each other Kingston offers no such clarity We have the narrator's feelings and her glorious multivalent fantasies of her mother's inner life her therapeutic self mythologising a patchy lumpen blending of ways of being and knowing than opens doors and hearts names spirits recounts mysteries but maintains I felt a kind of respectful refusal to assume If Tan's edges cut cleanly Kingston's are left rough They scrape and hurt something is catastrophically lost between China and the ghost country the possibility of wholeness has fallen into the sea and sunk to the bottom I gave The Joy Luck Club five stars but Kingston's rejection of omniscience in this book makes its approach to me ethical admirable The honesty and care the narrator employs is humbling she conceives of her need for explanation for her mother's careful keeping of tradition as pouring concrete over a forest killing the subtlety and cleverness of Chinese communication styles and life even though it's her earnest desire and blameless surely even admirable because she is willing to become the carrier of tradition but it denied the opportunity Yet her mother cannot shoulder the blame either; explanation is not the mode of conveyance needed only the osmosis possible in immersion could educate the wayward daughter Locked in the paths or poses of their unanswerable desires mother and daughter carve their shapes into each other by attrition as they are rocked and rolled by USian waves There is no resolution only the story and its scarred traces


  8. says:

    The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston should not be judged until you reach its endAt the beginning it is confusing disgusting and violentAs I got around towards the middle I could make sense of what was going on and found myself laughing I found myself nodding and saying that she the author HAS captured Chinese women their manner and way of speaking a sort of “Chinese personality type”At the end I had to acknowledge that the author had accurately and honestly drawn what it was like to be a daughter to Chinese immigrant parents in America in the middle of the 20th centuryChinese ways myths and beliefs are woven into the author’s autobiography The book consists of five stories that are interconnected Not only the author’s but also her mother’s and aunts’ lives are spoken of Published in 1975 the book was written when the author was thirty fiveMing Na narrates the audiobook very well so four stars for the narration It is easy to follow The tone used for the different family members is perfect Ming Na really did have me laughing in the middleThe Song Poet A Memoir of My Father 5 stars by Kao Kalia YangThe Latehomecomer A Hmong Family Memoir 5 stars by Kao Kalia YangOn Gold Mountain The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese American Family 4 stars by Lisa SeeThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down A Hmong Child Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures 4 stars by Anne FadimanStrength in What Remains A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness 4 stars by Tracy KidderThe Woman Warrior 3 stars by Maxine Hong KingstonFifth Chinese Daughter 3 stars by Jade Snow WongWhen I look at this list I think how utterly amazing it is that books can be so very different and yet all worth reading


  9. says:

    This book is beautifully written with some lovely flights of fancy in it and some very dramatic portrayals But ultimately it is a depressing horrifying traumatic tale that left me with very little sympathy for the author I can see that she had a difficult childhood being the first American born child of her Chinese parents who never really settled emotionally into their new country I can see the many conflicting issues she had to deal with in her youth and how her mother's extremely forceful personality combined with village traditions brought over from China stunted her development to a great degreeBut to my way of understanding the author turns on her heritage almost wants to deny it even to the point of torturing a classmate who oddly enough has many of the characteristics the author was trying to overcome at the time This is sad because we should be proud of our background not try to deny anything about it Our ancestors and their traditions made us who we are We do not have to feel forced to behave the same way but we should not look back in disgust That is denying a major part of our own selvesWho we each are is a blend of the past the present and our dreams for the future But we have to have the inner courage first to know ourselves and then to become who we are meant to be We cannot let anything even a forceful parent stop us Perhaps I only feel that way because I did not have generations of traditions weighing me down when I was growing up All I had to deal with was a strong mother and that issue of the author's I could identify with I had a sense of the author saying 'poor little me' behind every sentence and that grew tiresome Also tiresome was the author's way of portraying all Chinese as behaving the way her family did No one can truly say that all the people from a country are a certain way that simply is not true I ended the book feeling annoyed I can only hope that in her later life she was able to work out some of her issues and learn to enjoy her heritage at least a little bit


  10. says:

    Mmm not a huge fan Ought to write up a thinky review with lots of discussion of representation and acknowledgment that it's unfair to expect every Chinese American writer to describe the entire Chinese American experience but I am too lazy to do that right now I think most of my issues with this book would've been solved if Hong Kingston stopped saying Chinese blah blah blah as if all Chinese people were one great homogeneous block and did the same thing all the time and everywhere She kind of acknowledges this issue in that she is like I don't know what about me is Chinese and what is from my family and what is from the village etc etc but she then proceeds not to do anything about itAlso that kind of very deep ambivalence about being ChineseChinese culture is uite strange to me so it kind of put me off As far as I can recall Amy Tan had a similar thing like you could tell she had Issues and similar issues with her mom