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The Woman Warrior

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  13,336 ratings  ·  772 reviews
A Chinese American woman tells of the Chinese myths, family stories and events of her California childhood that have shaped her identity. It is a sensitive account of growing up female and Chinese-American in a California laundry.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1975)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Leah
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-sequential 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 upo...more
Nicole~
4.5 stars

The Swordswoman of Words


The 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...more
Zen Cho
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. (...more
Mary
Jan 31, 2008 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those into good writing, post-modernism/ genre-bending, cultural syncretism, or women's lit
Recommended to Mary by: Jim Reed and Patricia Brooke
I think I read almost this entire book with my jaw dropped. Maxine Hong Kingston has an incredible ability to say so much, so brilliantly, within every single phrase. The structure of her memoir speaks to all three of her identifications - Chinese/ American/ Woman - merging fiction with non-fiction and her own story with those of relatives and mythic heroines, to create a piece that represents her own immersion in a culture far better than a more traditional autobiography or memoir ever could. S...more
Laura
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts was all about the narrator's struggle to find her her identity. Being a Chinese-American, the author is trying to figure out who she is and what made her that person. What confused me about the book was that the title calls it a memoir, but parts of it are fiction. This made me think more about genre and how much imagination can go into a memoir, and how much of the author's real-life experience goes into fiction. How much of life is real an...more
Owen
I feel conflicted about this book. It is the first book by an Asian American writer accepted into the American canon (the first to be taught in universities etc.). And it has kind of an empowering message I guess. But her depiction of Asianness is so damn annoying. I had a prof who excuses it with this passage where Kingston has her grandma say something like, "do you really believe all these stories I tell you about China? they're just stories." how does that little paragraph excuse an entire b...more
Emily
Dec 11, 2007 Emily added it
Shelves: can-t-finish-it
I couldn't tell, and I don't think the publisher could either, whether this book was fiction or not. It is called a memoir, but on the back of my copy, it says fiction, yet it won an award for nonfiction. I know an author has creative license, especially with a memoir, but the realistic chapters placed next to fantasy ones made the book too disjointed for me and I couldn't get into it. It didn't challenge my thoughts of what a memoir is, I liked the fact that she incorporated dreams from her chi...more
Madeline
Nov 28, 2007 Madeline rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who's bored and wants to think about obvious themes in a fairly entertaining way
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
i read this for school. obviously. i do not read books with titles like this in my own time. i hear that in the 90's this was the book most taught in universities.

the poor 90's.

the themes are obvious: mother/daughter relations are difficult. merging cultures is difficult. trying to find your voice is difficult.

i do, however, commend the merging of genres, because the whole fiction/non-fiction thing is pretty ridiculous in my opinion. (is it not all fiction?) the narrative gives way from "memoir"...more
Mmars
This was an eye-opening look at Chinese American culture when I read it in the early-80s. It was a real soul-baring treatise of a life very, very unlike my own. So honest, yet so unbelievable. Appreciated so much the way Kingston portrayed traditional beliefs from across the ocean as a part of her family's American experience in modern San Francisco.

A classic work for young Americans struggling to bridge generational differences both cultural and in general.
Lena
I quite liked this book. The writing was beautifully descritive and fitted well with the overall theme of the book. I think it really conveyed the Chinese American experience in that it showed a world where people are trying to make their way in a new world while still tethered to tradition.

I also really enjoyed the way the concept of tradition was handled. On the one hand, Hong describes the all reaching confucian patriarchy that shaped women's lives in China. The way female infanticide, lack...more
Lindsey
I wish we had read this in sophomore year of high school instead of Catcher in the Rye. This book is an amazing, lyrically written book about growing up as a girl between two cultures, neither of which is particularly empowering to adolescent girls. What I didn't like about the school system teaching Catcher in the Rye as a 'universal story of adolescence' was because I felt it was a very masculine story of adolescence--the things Holden does (punch walls, order a prostitute, be overly protectiv...more
Misha
How could I not love a book titled The Woman Warrior? I read this for a women's literature class in college, probably around 1995. It's part memoir, part folklore -- weaving together stories from Kingston's family, from ancient China, and from her life into a larger narrative about what the lives of women mean. My favorite part was the story of Fa Mu Lan (which later would become the basis for a Disney film, sigh). When I read this, we didn't yet have Buffy or her cultural offspring, were maybe...more
Maria
Feb 01, 2008 Maria rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Maria by: Christine
I give up on this one. It was so hard for me to get through, and I can't figure out why. There are several short stories, which may be something I am not used to, or the fact that there is some fantastical writing in it and some hilarious things, too (old Chinese women following young kids around and talking out loud in description "and now she puts the spiders in the bowl and turns them on. Her eyes light up!") It's pretty good writing, but I just couldn't get into it and basically dragged my w...more
Michelle
Before there was The Joy Luck Club, there was The Woman Warrior. Part memoir, part epic fantasy, this book chronicles the life of a Chinese-American girl growing up in the 1950's. This was a fascinating read, one that I couldn't put down. I felt sorry for the daughter who was struggling to find her place among the Americans, but also sorry for the mother who missed her country. If you like Amy Tan novels, then I highly recommend this book.
Abbe
Amazon.com Review

The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully written memoir of growing up Chinese American in Stockton, California. Maxine Hong Kingston (

Review

Maxine Hong Kingston grew up in two worlds. There was "solid America," the place her parents emigrated to, and the China of her mother's "talk-stories." In talk-stories women were warriors and her mother was still a doctor in China who could cure the sick and scare away ghosts, not a harried and frustrated woman running a

...more
Chitra Divakaruni
An excellent book. I read this memoir of growing up Chinese American in California in graduate school, and was deeply moved by it. I particularly appreciated Hong Kingston's intertwining of ancient myth and contemporary immigrant challenges. Beautiful, powerful language. The first chapter, No Name Woman, about the terrible fate of a pregnant aunt in China, is unforgettable. This book, more than any other, made me believe my immigrant stories were also worth telling. This book, more than any othe...more
Inder
Another amazing memoir! One third poem, one third fable, and one third memoir. Terrifyingly dark, Maxine Hong Kingston spares no one, least of all herself, in her portrayal of female strength and betrayal in Chinese and Chinese-American culture. This was flat-out uncomfortable to read at times, and kept me squirming in my seat throughout. Disturbing and gorgeous. What did the NYT blurb say about it on the back? "Dizzying." Yep.
Navaneeta
If you are not heard, you don't exist. You become a ghost. That is why you need to story-talk - to be. And to be sane, you have to be able to change your stories. Only mad men keeps saying the same old story.

In The Woman Warrior, we meet a child who is trying to negotiate between the sane and the insane, between the story and the reality, between myth and history, between a Chinese Fresh-of-the-Boat (FOB) culture and the mixed American culture with all its differences. She is shaped as much by t...more
Amber Williams
I've read this book twice, just today finishing it for the second time. I really do enjoy this book. Kingston's use of language and seemingly innate storytelling ability really carry this book for me. Plus, I really enjoy reading about the American experience from the "outsider" point of view- which basically means anyone who isn't white and especially a white male.

The story of the no name woman is probably the strongest story emotionally for me. Kingston uses this story to, in a way, frame the...more
Jarrah
I'd had this book on my to-read list since 2011, when it was one of the picks for Feminist Classics Book Club, and I had no idea what to expect. The book is hard to categorize, being a mixture of memoir, folktales, and creative imaginings. At the heart is Maxine Hong Kingston's struggle to define herself and to reconcile her identity with her Chinese family history and her experiences growing up in America in the 1950s-70s. The "ghosts" in the title refers to actual spirits, Kingston's ancestors...more
Zulu
Although I could really appreciate what this book was doing, I didn't feel drawn to it or attracted by the characters. The structure of the book is five chapters which are more like linked short stories with characters from myth or from one girl's family. Her parents emigrated from China to America in the early 1940s, and the main character is born in 1943. Much of the book focuses on how the protagonist experiences differences in her two cultures, and her relationship with her mother, who cling...more
Bruce
The story, "No Name Woman," told in the first person by a Chinese woman who immigrated to the US, is a reminiscence and a meditation on the life of her deceased aunt who, in China many years before, had become pregnant as the result of an adulterous affair and, on the night she gave birth, the same night that the villagers punished her entire family by destroying their home and possessions, drowned her child and herself in the family well. In reflecting on this event, the narrator thinks about t...more
Liz
Jun 23, 2010 Liz added it
Wall. Banger.

Seriously, if I hadn't had to study this book for Lit, it would have gone straight into the bin.

The ideas were interesting and I loved the way Hong Kingston played around with myth and biography and history and memoir and allegory and all that sort of stuff.

But the issues the book centres around are so depressing. Kingston regales us with traumas and disappointments and upsets page after page after page. Her depiction of Chinese culture is so negative, you start to wonder whether...more
John
Sep 06, 2012 John added it
This book is something else. I can't say that I've ever come across a book, written in English, whose theme and language, texture and rhythm felt so strange and far removed from anything I know and yet, oddly enough, I felt completely connected with it and the characters in it.

The unfamiliar parts of the novel, those regarding Chinese mythology, an area that I know very little about, where somewhat challenging at first. Indeed the book begins with a dream sequence that is a little disorientating...more
Aref Elbanna
The genre of the book is autobiography. It talks about a Chinese-American woman’s childhood and the struggles she faced while growing up with her family. I chose this book to read because it teaches you lessons how to overcome struggles in your life and be patient in life. The protagonist in the story is Maxine Hong Kingston. She works hard to succeed in her life and to overcome he struggles she is facing. The antagonist in the book is Brave Orchid. She gave Kingston hard time while growing up...more
Ellen
October is going to be the month of clearing out my "currently reading" list. There are some books that have been on there for months, and they feel like lead, useless paperweights on my bed stand, so heavy when I pick them up and try to pry them apart and read them. Unfortunately, this is one of them. I managed to get through it out of sheer determination. The only good thing is that it has been a rather effective substitute for sleeping pills.

I'm sorry, Maxine. I really wanted to dig your boo...more
Black Elephants
I've finally finished Maxine Hong Kingston's Warrior Woman: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. The "ghosts" refer to her Chinese mother's habit of calling everything that isn't explainable, i.e. not Chinese, a ghost. There are immigration ghosts, ghost ghosts, American ghosts, neighbor ghosts, ghosty ghosts and even the narrator is sometimes referred to as a ghost because she chatters on and on like ghosts in her new country.

I honestly must say that I'm not sure if I liked the book, but I reall...more
Riley
Sep 29, 2013 Riley rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: immigrants, women, Asians
Recommended to Riley by: Alex
Shelves: 2008, asian
3.5 stars, really.

Long story short, I liked 4 out of the 5 sections of this book. The first, No Name Woman, was my favorite, and I think it works best as a standalone. I didn't much care for White Tigers, which is where fiction is most strongly blended into this nonfiction piece. Shaman and At the Western Palace were both strong, and I loved delving more into the mother's and aunt's lives. A Song for a Barbarian-Reed Pipe was, I thought, good up until the very end, which I didn't completely get....more
Anjali
I hate that I had all these pre-conceptions about how I wasn't supposed to like book. I've heard it was "mean" or something, offensive to Chinese Americans, presenting a warped and bitter view of their culture which is mostly made up. Or else it's too "nice," making the suffering of people in China and immigrants look too picturesque, etc. etc. Well, maybe I'm kind of like this book - kind of a grouch and also kind of a people pleaser? too ethnic and not ethnic enough? - but when I finally got p...more
Melissa Bond
When families have a rich social and cultural commentary for future generations, many times one is left to wonder who they truly are, and if those who once were really have any determination in the answer. Often ancestral history is told dramatically when one looks into the past to help embrace the future. Kingston’s portrayal of finding herself in an environment of warnings and superstitions is colorfully rich, especially in a culture where any disruption creates an even greater interpretation...more
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17290
She was born as Maxine Ting Ting Hong to a laundry house owner in Stockton, California. She was the third of eight children, and the first among them born in the United States. Her mother trained as a midwife at the To Keung School of Midwifery in Canton. Her father had been brought up a scholar and taught in his village of Sun Woi, near Canton. Tom left China for America in 1924 and took a job in...more
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“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” 14 likes
“You're too young to decide to live forever.” 11 likes
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