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American Woman

3.5  ·  Rating details ·  974 Ratings  ·  153 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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Genevieve
Jul 16, 2008 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 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 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
Jen
Jul 30, 2008 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.
Amanda
Aug 06, 2011 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
Amanda
Apr 29, 2008 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
Kate
Jul 22, 2008 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
Vishnu
Mar 15, 2015 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!
Kallie
Jun 09, 2009 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.
Misha
Dec 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-american
Part One
• Red Hook, NY, Frazer searching for Jenny, who has eluded him before—it’s June 4, 1974 (4)
• “…he believes in the inflexibility, predictability, knowability of people. They never stray far from their familiar realms of being. The most shocking act, closely examined, is just a louder version of some habitual gesture. No one is ever ‘out of character.’” (4)
• Frazer struggled not to just be considered a ‘dumb jock’ (6)
• Carol, smartest woman he knew (7-8)
• Frazer had an idea: “and though th
...more
Rebecca McNamara
Sep 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, feminism
American Woman doesn’t begin or end about a woman. It begins about a man who loved a woman, and whose love she didn’t return; its final line is about a man whose love she is only beginning to return. Further, the protagonist “she” is often nameless, referred to by a pronoun rather than Jenny Shimada, even when she is only just entering a scene.

Titling concerns aside, the book is a mostly engaging meditation on race, identity, family, class, love, loyalty. It follows the story of young fugitive
...more
Claire S.
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: at-home
Drunk with the bitter decaf tea of realization that my own writing is hopelessly amateur next to Choi's almost magical ability to shift between present/future/past, to manically pursue granular underpinnings while making broad brush strokes.
It's a fictional account riffing off the Patty Hurst kidnapping and bank robbery and Underground Weathermen bombings - it wasn't this way but it could have been. And if it was, this is how it might have felt, how life transforms, explodes, and deceives.Comple
...more
Marcos
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a slow burning, evocative and creepily rendered retelling of the infamous Patty Hearst kidnapping. Professor Choi chooses to narrate the story with the voice of the stubborn Jenny Shimada, who is a forlorn, but dangerously subtle revolutionary also on the lam from the law. Jenny's shadowy cast of characters- heiress Pauline, mentor Fraser, lover William, fellow abductors Juan and Yvonne, and finally Jim Shimada, her father, also a former political prisoner of Manzanar round out this ...more
Dotty
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Susan Choi is a wonderful writer, and American Woman is a very good book. I think it could have been an excellent book if it had been edited.
Mom
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was ok


Fictionalized account of Patty Hearst, a wealthy young woman kidnapped by radicals in 1974 who adopted the cause of her kidnappers. Unfortunately, the characters never became real to me. Also, I found myself impatient as I read -- wanting to get on with the storyline and skip all the long long descriptive paragraphs (many paragraphs were 2 or 3 pages long). I'm impressed that I bothered to finish -- I guess I kept reading because the novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. By now I should know that
...more
Holly
Dec 15, 2015 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
...more
Madeline
May 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: assigned-reading, ugh
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Diana
Apr 15, 2014 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
Thurston Hunger
Nov 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Felice
Feb 08, 2010 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
Dinosaurgerms
Feb 25, 2015 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
May 13, 2014 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
Rosalina
Sep 09, 2016 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.
Beth
Jul 12, 2012 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
Beverly
Jan 17, 2016 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
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
Laura
May 31, 2008 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
Tae Kim
Dec 29, 2011 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
...more
Terry Tsurigi
Mar 23, 2010 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
Kristen
I only read about three chapters of this book before calling it quits. I'd hoped it would be interesting. The story, although fiction, reimagines the events following the abduction of Patty Hearst by radicals in the 1970s. Patty was the gal that ended up adopting her kidnappers radical ideas.
The book was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize so I figured the writing would be good. A few reasons I stopped: 1. Bad language (horrible). 2 I despised both main characters after reading only three ch
...more
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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
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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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