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The Woman Warrior: Memoirs Of A Girlhood Among Ghosts

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  18,502 Ratings  ·  1,044 Reviews
The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully written memoir of growing up Chinese American in Stockton, California. Maxine Hong Kingston (China Men) distills the dire lessons of her mother's mesmerizing "talk-story" tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upward. The author's America is a ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 209 pages
Published 1977 by Penguin (first published 1975)
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Bookish I would say yes. It's a wonderful book and there's lots to take from a reading of it.
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Jul 02, 2008 Leah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-ish
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
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
Jan 19, 2008 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 f ...more
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 activist.

The book itself talks of the China of her parents (she was born in the US after her father emigrated in 1940) using th
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
Feb 26, 2008 Owen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
I've wanted to read this book for so very long and am so very glad it did not disappoint.

MHK takes the reader on an entrancing journey, mixing memory with legend and creating a novel really unlike anything I've read before. It was a really compelling look at Chinese culture and at her own experiences growing up as a daughter of Chinese immigrants. It was especially interesting because I could see aspects of my own family experience in MHK's stories, even though I have generations removed and fro
Mar 15, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Once when I was a kid some extended family came over and someone broke out Trivial Pursuit. Even though I was maybe 8, I got to be in on it because we were playing teams. Then I noticed the box stated the game was actually for ages "12 and up"--or whatever the number was--point is, I was below it. As a kid I believed this written statement to be LAW, and breaking the law was the worst thing you could do. I seem to remember bringing up my legal concerns and being unsatisfactorily brushed off. I w ...more
Nov 28, 2007 Madeline rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who's bored and wants to think about obvious themes in a fairly entertaining way
Shelves: fiction, non-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"
Jan 04, 2008 Maria rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2012 Mmars rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 05, 2007 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007-08
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
Aug 07, 2015 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A memoir of a Chinese-American woman of her experiences growing up in an immigrant family in Sacramento, and the tremendous weight and power of the mythical China her mother enveloped her in, her view of herself, stubborn and real, overlaid with her mother's Chinese sense of the worth of a girl (not much, and yet, the stories of the warrior girl makes us question that). Fascinating to reread a book so bold and new in form and content when it was first published in 1976, a moment women authors an ...more
Chitra Divakaruni
Mar 26, 2009 Chitra Divakaruni rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: influences
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
Nov 16, 2012 Lena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Erika B. (SOS BOOKS)
"You must not tell anyone," my mother said, "what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born."

I thought this book was amazing! So fantastic! Kingston instantly draws you in with her first line (above). I loved her story about being a Chinese-American and trying to find a culture that fit her. I would read this book for the first two chapters alo
Mel González
“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.”

This was very very instructive, I can't tell you how many things I've learned about Chinese culture, myths and legends. Loved the parallel between fiction/non fiction. It's definitely a super important feminist book you should read to understand the world a bit more and to expand your mind on these things. It's a book about constructing identities and figuring out what things you want to take with
Jun 23, 2009 Lindsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Abbe Review

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


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

Jul 04, 2011 Misha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: college
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
Jan 27, 2015 Pink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure that I've read anything quite like this book before. A collection of five stories, memoirs, woven with Chinese folktales and all slightly different in their construction. I can see why it doesn't quite fit into a specific genre. I'd never heard of Maxine Hong Kingston until recently and although I think this text is taught text in America, I don't think it's well known in England. I'm really glad that I discovered it though, as I was mesmerised by the different stories, learning abo ...more
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.
dancing lizard
"No Name Woman"

In this first short story, our narrator introduces us to a personal family history where her dad’s sister becomes pregnant out of wedlock. The story follows her aunt, the events leading up to discovering her pregnancy, while her husband has been on an extended stay in the United States and she has remained in China. The aunt is ostracized by the townsfolk and, after giving birth to her child, commits murder/suicide by drowning herself, and her newborn, in the family well.

The autho
I have mentioned earlier that I wasn’t able to place this book within a genre, and now I just believe it doesn’t really have one. Kingston seems to believe the same; that the boundaries of memoir/autobiography/novel, more often than not, crisscross and meld through her writing. Her characters are not really fiction, but never entirely real. The merging of the real experience and the fictive one is so simples and unnoticeable, we’re left to wonder about the “facts”.

A most remarkable thing about t
Oct 05, 2009 Ellen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2012 Jarrah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 11, 2016 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
To be fair, Maxine Hong Kingston has zero responsibility to represent any aspect of Chinese-American culture that she doesn't want to or identify with, but I am really not fond of the mysticism and superstition-steeped flavor of immigrant fiction. In that vein, I was somewhat annoyed with how she referred to essentially all non-family members as ghosts-- like "postman ghosts" and "Mexican ghosts". I was also left a bit uncomfortable with her interactions with and portrayal of a person with cogni ...more
so so good. beautifully written, part folklore and memoir and the straddle between two identities. The beginning starts off very hauntingly and tells the story of a no name woman which expands the discussion of how women are viewed in the chinese culture and society at its core. We then get inside the story of Fa Mu Lan. This memoir also greatly explores the complex relationships between mother and daughter. We dive deep into the silences that MHK deals with and all of the ghosts throughout her ...more
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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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“You can't eat straight A's.” 58 likes
“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” 58 likes
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