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Books 97: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Book 97: The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood Among Ghosts.
Author: Maxine Hong Kingston, 1976
Genre: Memoir. Creative Non-fiction. Myth and Legend.
Other Details: Hardback. 209 pages.

I was drawn to seek out this unusual memoir when I read that within it Kingston had blended autobiography with Chinese myth and legend along with history and her family's experiences in China and the United States. I understand that it is a widely studied text in the United States over a number of disciplines and generating much scholarly debate though seems less known here in the United Kingdom.

It is written in a lyrical style that also highlights the tensions that Kingston experienced as a first generation Chinese-American caught between two cultures and seeking to reconciles her Chinese and American female identities. The movement between story-telling and actual events is quite fluid and while it is clearly non-fiction it partakes of many of the qualities found in Magical Realism.

First published in 1976 it made an impact as a feminist text as well as a work on multiculturalism. My library's edition was from 1976 and so lacked any later perspective that may have informed later editions especially given the shift in relations between China and the West in subsequent years.

It is a deceptively short work but fairly dense in terms of its narrative and so it took me some time to finish it. I found myself reading a few pages a day in an almost meditative fashion. I quickly realised that the culture she was chronicling both in terms of China and the Chinese-American community was very different to my own experiences. The second part, which was more rooted in Kingston's own youthful experiences took less time to read. Overall I found it a very rewarding experience and could appreciate it is a text that invites reflection and analysis.

'Woman Warrior', a Memoir That Shook the Genre - 2007 'Washington Post' article on the impact of the book.
Tags: bildungsroman/coming of age, memoir, modern classic, myth and legend
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