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American Woman

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  860 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
Susan Choi's first novel, The Foreign Student, was published to remarkable critical acclaim. The New Yorker called it "an auspicious debut," and the Los Angeles Times touted it as "a novel of extraordinary sensibility and transforming strangeness," naming it one of the ten best books of the year. American Woman, this gifted writer's second book, is a novel of even greater ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 7th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2003)
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Aug 21, 2008 Genevieve rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
This book has an incredibly interesting premise - a fictionalized account of Patty Hearst's life as a fugitive, told through the perspective of a fellow radical/ activist Wendy Yoshimura (called Jenny Shimura in the Book) - but there are some serious problems in the execution of the story. Several passages drone on with internal narratives focused on infinitesimal details, which actually serve to draw the reader away from the characterization of the protagonists instead of giving profound insigh ...more
Jessica Baxter
Jul 25, 2007 Jessica Baxter rated it it was amazing
the patty hearst story, told from the point of view of her asian-american female captor turned partner in crime. a stunningly written book about assimilation, radicalism, female relationships, romantic relationships, road trips, guns, survival, race, class and gender. just fucking great.
Derek Emerson
Aug 03, 2009 Derek Emerson rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009-books-read
This is the type of book I typically avoid, but before I had a chance to run I was drawn in by this engrossing account of one fugitive trying to help three more people continue their evasion of the police. I was not far into the book (okay, chapter two) when I realized I was in a fictional account of the Patty Hearst story. For those younger than myself, Hearst is the grandaughter of media giant William Randolph Hearst (see: Kane, Citizen) who was kidnapped by the unknown SLA in 1974, then becam ...more
Aug 20, 2008 Jen rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jen by: Book Club
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 06, 2011 Amanda added it
American Woman is very well written, besides being extremely insightful and thought-provoking from both a psychological development and a political-historic perspective. Though it may seem strange to compare a woman of Korean decent with the achitypical Jewish-American writer, I see many parallels between Choi's book and the writing of Philip Roth. One of these was that the writing style is complex and rich enough to slow me down, something I respect a lot in a book. The language is beautiful an ...more
May 23, 2008 Amanda rated it really liked it
It's not very often that I pick up a book and actually read it based solely on the back cover description. It almost always takes a recommendation from someone I know or overwhelming praise to bring new authors to light. This book is one that I picked up back at Barnes and Noble years ago in the advance readers copies. I have never read any of the books I picked up there, until now. This novel is a historically relevant psychological portrait of young radicals at different points in their lives. ...more
Aug 26, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction usually conjures up visions of sweaty English monarchs, or heaving soldiers reclaiming an embankment in some centuries-old war. But in American Woman, the author expertly recreates the "the patty hearst story" as "the jenny shimada" story. (That is, the story of the young woman who helped to care for Patty Hearst while in hiding.) The vaguely familiar celebrity story quickly becomes a more intimate story about struggle, isolation, justice, friendship, and identity. Those are a ...more
Mar 24, 2015 Vishnu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: woc-writers
Loved it. Riveting, thrilling, AND nuanced. Really got into the political analyses and attempts at understanding radical movements, as well as the particular perspective of the Japanese American woman who was the main character.

First couple chapters lagged a bit, but then it turned into a wild ride until the end!
Dec 15, 2015 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the true story of the 1974 Patty Hearst kidnapping; Hearst was the grand-daughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. She was kidnapped by an terrorist group and eventually joined and participated in their cause. This fictionalized perspective from Choi changes the names and a few details but uses the structure of the true story.

*spoiler alert*
Jenny Shimada, whose father was imprisoned in the Japanese internment camps, narrowly missed getting captured by the police after her
Nancy Jacoby
American Woman is a marvelous read, a lush political thriller that unfolds with perfectly paced suspense and character development. I loved how Choi entwined backstory with front story and inserted the protagonist's thoughts so seamlessly into the story. And in every scene, the natural environs, weather, and even wildlife at times became minor characters that subtly set the mood for the action and provided such a vivid sense of place that you could feel yourself there, among the cadre and on the ...more
Jan 24, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it
This was such an intriguing book. I had some difficulty getting into the story at first but once I was able to put all the pieces together, I could hardly put it down. Jenny Shimada is a 25 year old Asian-American who took part in some radical political behavior in her younger days. She is now living a low profile life just hoping for some peace and quiet. A friend from her past, Rob Frazer, has contacted her and wants her to help him out by "babysitting" 3 young radicals that he has brought eas ...more
Apr 29, 2014 Diana rated it liked it
American Woman is a fictionalized version of Patty Hearst's time in hiding with the members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In case you were born after 1974, Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA. The group made certain strange demands from Hearst's very wealthy family, but was never satisfied with their responses. After some time, the group robbed a bank, and Patty appeared to be an active participant in he heist, rather than a hostage. A shootout with the SLA followed, with only two members and H ...more
Sep 05, 2015 Jessica rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, inviting (although perhaps sometimes a forced invite) rumination into the concept of a moral compass in the midst of pressures regarding loyalty, insecurities, paranoia, and radicalism.

"As much as she'd thought she was fighting for justice, perhaps what she'd wanted was less justice than vengeance-- because justice wasn't an eye for an eye, an act of violence to match acts of violence...she had never believed in violence as a provocation, as a means to incite revolution by inciting
Jun 10, 2009 Kallie rated it really liked it
Choi is brilliant at evoking the reasoning and sensibility of her protagonist, based on the character of Asian woman who assisted the SLA (including Patricia Hearst) in their evasion of capture and arrest.
Lynn Kanter
Oct 03, 2014 Lynn Kanter rated it it was amazing
I became a Susan Choi fan after reading American Woman, published in 2003. The novel uses some elements of the well-known Patty Hearst saga – a young heiress is kidnapped by left-wing radicals and comes to join them – and melds them into a story we’ve never read before. Choi’s focus is not on the Patty Hearst figure, but on the woman no one notices, a revolutionary of Japanese-American descent who agrees to hide the heiress and ultimately grows to love her, all the while knowing that it is she h ...more
Kelly McCloskey-Romero
Aug 06, 2016 Kelly McCloskey-Romero rated it really liked it
I picked this book up because I loved The Foreign Student, and I was not disappointed. For me, it was a way to understand a historical period through fiction. Amazingly, not knowing even what the book was about, I took it with me on a weekend trip to Northern California. It was exciting to visit Berkeley and think about what happened to Patty Hearst and the revolutionary movements of the 70s. I learned a lot, and I love Choi's writing. I have to give 4 stars rather than 5 only because the charac ...more
Sep 02, 2015 Dinosaurgerms rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and saw myself reflected in it. One of my favorite books I have read this year. It has everything I seek from a good story - gripping plot, beautiful, spare writing, race and gender stuff explored with subtlety and truth. The grand machinations of history playing out in individuals' lives and relationships. The characters are grappling with how to truly live moral lives in a stained and violent world. No surprise: some of them are assholes whose solutions are strikingly similar ...more
Barbara Rhine
Aug 23, 2014 Barbara Rhine rated it really liked it
Are you are a bit obsessed with the left political movement of the sixties and seventies, as I am? If so, American Woman, by Susan Choi, is the novel for you! Remember the Symbionese Liberation Army? The murder of Marcus Foster, Oakland’s first black school superintendant? The abduction of Patty Hearst from her Berkeley apartment? The demand for free food drops? The police bombing of the SLA’s “safe” house in LA? Patty as Tania the Revolutionary, photographed with a machine gun for an SLA poster ...more
Feb 08, 2010 Felice rated it liked it
American Woman is by Susan Choi and was published by HarperCollins about 5/6 years ago. I do remember bringing the book home, being excited to read it and then? It's all a blank. Now? Consider that blank filled and me wondering what took me so long to read such a good book. I'm also wondering about who my neighbors might really be after reading American Woman. That isn't a question that has ever occurred to me before. I've lived here forever. My neighbors have lived here a long time and a half. ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Beth rated it really liked it
I was particularly interested in this book because my own second novel (I hope!) is also about issues of class war and centers around a kidnapping. Choi's book is broadly based on one of the more well-known 20th century kidnappings, that of Patricia Hearst who famously came to sympathize with her captors (a phenomenon known as the Stockholm syndrome) and joined them in committing a bank robbery. Choi's fictional account, though, actually focuses more on a different character. Jenny, a young woma ...more
Thurston Hunger
Nov 16, 2012 Thurston Hunger rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 04, 2008 Madeline rated it it was ok
Shelves: assigned-reading, ugh
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tae Kim
Mar 12, 2012 Tae Kim rated it it was amazing
Well conceived and well structured, Susan Choi’s Pulitzer Prize nominated fiction novel "American Woman" was not exactly what I had expected.

In terms of the quality of her writing and the unraveling of the book’s story, the work was, in my mind, every bit worthy of a nod from the venerable and respected Pulitzer Prize board. What surprised me, though, was Choi’s remarkable ability to reach beyond what I can reasonably imagine to be the parameters of her own experience, to give life and detail t
Jun 06, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it
Somewhere between three and four stars, I gave Ms. Choi the benefit of a doubt. Somehow "American Woman" has been labeled a "thriller" but it doesn't exactly get your pulse pounding -- it's more like an elegy for the radical underground as it depicts a handful of its survivors during the movement's last days, which this novel posits as the Patty Hearst kidnapping. More of a nicely observed character study than anything else, with a little historical fiction tossed in for flavor.
Apr 16, 2016 Shana rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 12, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
This book is, in essence, a fictionalized account of Patty Hearst's life after being kidnapped and becoming a revolutionary. At a time when people are not outraged and radical in their dissent of our country's many problems and injustices, I found myself reading this book and wishing we had more liberal extremists who would stop at almost nothing to bring attention to our foreign policy, the disparity between the rich and the poor, etc. I'm not condoning or requesting violence but there is somet ...more
Alexandra Borriello
Jun 05, 2014 Alexandra Borriello rated it really liked it
I did not like this book at all. The plot was so confusing and the times that I understood it it was very boring. The characters didn't have any interesting background to them and it was overall not my favorite. I wish this book would talk more about how women really helped as nurses in the war and that men did not have the absolute biggest part in it. This book lacked literary elements as well.
Elizabeth Bennet
Mar 02, 2015 Elizabeth Bennet rated it really liked it
I liked it. Despite the seemingly mysterious and action filled plot, the novel is dreamy and introspective with sentences flowing among the characters' psyches and descriptions of the environment. It is not the type of novel that one feels unwilling to leave but it is gripping while reading it. Recommended and I will be on the lookout for the author's previous novel The Foreign Student.
May 14, 2010 John rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get into this book. For the first 100 pages or so, I had no interest in any of the characters, and I gave up on the book. But the next day, I decided to read a couple of more chapters and see what happened, and it slowly drew me in. Choi's compassionate and subtle free indirect discourse allowed Jenny and Pauline to eventually get under my skin and begin to come alive as real people. I actually felt that I learned more about Patty Hearst from this fictionalized narrative th ...more
Sep 09, 2016 Rosalina rated it really liked it
Interesting read; bought it as it was recommended by Nancy Pearl whose recommendations I trust. I read it the summer of the 2016 Presidential Campaign and found it thought-provoking as to how the same questions repeat themselves; some of the situations in the book reflect the same political debates.
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  • The Manikin
  • Rabbis and Wives
  • The Feud
  • Persian Nights
  • An Unfinished Season
  • Leaving the Land
  • Shakespeare's Kitchen
  • The Collected Stories
  • Bear and His Daughter
  • At Weddings and Wakes
  • Troublemaker and Other Saints
  • Whites
  • Paradise
  • The Barbarians are Coming
  • Mean Spirit
  • Unlocking the Air and Other Stories
  • What I Lived For
  • Mr. Ives' Christmas
Susan Choi was born in South Bend, Indiana, and raised there and in Houston, Texas. She studied literature at Yale and writing at Cornell, and worked for several years as a fact-checker for The New Yorker.

Her first novel, The Foreign Student, won the Asian-American Literary Award for fiction, and her second novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

With David Remnick she c
More about Susan Choi...

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“Why are instants of reunion so empty? Perhaps because they are so anticipated, too muffled already at the moment of their coming with every previous imagining to make any mark of their own.They refer backwards, to all the length of time that has refined itself as the prologue to cataclysm, and to all the flawed imaginings themselves, in each of which this moment is strangely dilated, expansive, arrested” 3 likes
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