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The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  23,079 ratings  ·  1,416 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
Paperback, Vintage International Edition, 209 pages
Published April 1989 by Random House, Inc (first published August 12th 1976)
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Michael Finocchiaro
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
...more
Michael
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2019
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 ...more
Dream
Jul 02, 2008 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
...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
Chrissie
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston should not be judged until you reach its end.

At the beginning it is confusing, disgusting and violent.

As 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
...more
Zanna
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 ...more
Mary
Jan 19, 2008 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. ...more
Debbie Zapata
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dar
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
...more
Lisa Vegan
Interesting. I just read my Goodreads friend Chelsea's review of this book and she says there is a story in here that didn't convince her to go vegetarian but brought her closer to giving up meat than anything else had.

I read this book in 1976 and became a vegetarian in January 1977. It was something I'd been considering for a while, and had been reading all sorts of things from 1973 on, but now I'm wondering if this book had some influence on my decision.

I still have a copy of my book
...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
Owen
Feb 26, 2008 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 ...more
Janet
Aug 07, 2015 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 ...more
Emily
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 ...more
Maria
Jan 04, 2008 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 ...more
Josh
Mar 15, 2015 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 ...more
Sohaib
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"'I' is a capital and 'you' is lower-case."

This sums up the focus of Maxine's memoirs: the cultivation of a hyphenated Chinese-American self in a world full of ghosts! Can she do it without a hitch? Without struggling to cope with the conflicting demands of family, school and society?

Recommended.
Jeanette
I tried so hard with this because I know it's considered a classic of sorts, but I give up. Her writing style makes me dizzy. She jumps in and out of Chinese legend and actual family history, sometimes from one sentence to the next. It's too hard for my frazzled brain to follow.
Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
For a book that The New York Times called "A remarkable book...it burns the fat out of the mind. As a dream...it is dizzying, elemental, a poem turned into a sword." , I am wondering if whoever wrote the review read Richard Wright's Black Boy, not this emotionless soliloquy.

This book starts out conglomerating Chinese culture and people and ends in a similar fashion. If colleges really want to teach about Asian-American or Chinese cultures and life, I don't understand why they'd pick a memoir so
...more
Pink
Jan 27, 2015 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 ...more
Chitra Divakaruni
Mar 26, 2009 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 ...more
Elizabeth A.G.
This is a remarkable book about female identity, female relationships, tradition and modernity, myth and truth, and Old World values revealed in "talk-stories" transported to the modern world in an assimilation of a collective sense of spirit of the Chinese-American woman and community. The stories of the book also reflect an ambiguity of feelings about what it means to be Chinese - a Chinese woman is supposed to be timid and be subservient to men and a girl is worthless compared to her male ...more
Marisa
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
...more
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
...more
Lindsey
Jun 23, 2009 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 ...more
Madeline
Nov 28, 2007 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"
...more
Mmars
Aug 06, 2012 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.
Carrie Kellenberger
Maxine Hong Kingston does a nice job of showing the differences between American and Chinese cultures. She caught all the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between both cultures, but overall, this book was a hot mess. It was really disjointed. It doesn't read like a memoir and it jumps all over the place.

I love books on mythology, especially Asian mythology, but The Woman Warrior was poorly written and the transitions between each story were awful.
Hayley Stenger
This book felt like a collection of autobiographical short stories to me. I really enjoyed some and the cultural insights from the perspective of an immigrant Chinese family and the focus on being a woman. The title was absolutely perfect for this book and the mythology in the story really tied everything together. Personally, with the structure of the book, I struggled with the disconnectedness with each tale as it was hard to relate or feel as connected as I wanted to the characters and deeper ...more
Margaret
The Woman Warrior combines Kingston's memoir of growing up in the U.S. the daughter of Chinese immigrants, her mother's story, and Chinese folklore and history. My favorite chapter, "Shaman," tells the history of how her mother became a doctor of midwifery in China, and battled ghosts in a woman's dormitory. It was hard to relate this independent ghost-fighting doctor with the mother Kingston describes, who belittled her daughters, though she's a warrior throughout. Both Kingston and her mother ...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
“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” 71 likes
“You can't eat straight A's.” 68 likes
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