Michael Finocchiaro's Reviews > The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
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really liked it
bookshelves: american-20th-c, autobiography, novels, feminism

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 the voice of her mother and herself as well as a mystical woman warrior. It is highly poetic at times such as when Maxine's grandmother (still in China) sends her sweet tastes telepathically, "How large the world must be to make my grandmother only a taste by the time she reaches me." p.99

The concept of identity pervades this work as Maxine's family is essentially country-less - the family in China is nearly wiped out by the revolution and their remaining property ceded to distant uncles that are still there and they fell isolated in the US surrounded by "ghosts" as they describe the white people around them. "I could not understand 'I'. The Chinese 'I' has seven strokes, intricacies. How could the American 'I', assuredly wearing a hat like the Chinese, have only three strokes, the middle so straight?" p. 166

My favorite part was the second chapter "White Tigers" where she describes a great woman warrior is trained in combat from the age of 7 to 22 by two old peasants and goes on to lead a peasant army. It is highly inspirational to see such a strong female character. And when this is contrasted to the "No Name Woman" in chapter 1, one can understand why strong female role models and fables were so important to Maxine's self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

I have visited China many times, but primarily the metropolises and my contacts with Chinese people have not been very deep. I was reminded of this by the scene in the last chapter "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" where Maxine is unable to get a word out of another girl who pretends to be mute except when she is reciting texts in class. I suppose that the cumulated suffering destroys one's voice as one feels powerless that even speech is too difficult. I did have one encounter years ago when I had dinner in Taiwan with a Chinese colleague whose family had fled with Chang Kai-Shek to Taiwan following Mao's victory in the Chinese Civil War. He tearfully described to me how his parents who were university professors had destroyed their fingers and backs digging trenches bare-handed during the Cultural Revolution. It was the rare moment when a Chinese person opened up to me about his suffering. And yet, that also bears some ambiguity because as bad was the Cultural Revolution was, before that, Mao had banned foot-binding (described several times in The Woman Warrior): "Nobody wrote to tell us that Mao himself had been matched to an older girl when he was a child and that he was freeing women from prisons, where they had been put for refusing the businessmen their parents had picked as husbands. Nobody told us that the Revolution (the Liberation) was against girl slavery and girl infanticide (a village-wide party if it's a boy). Girls would no longer have to kill themselves rathe than get married. May the Communists light up the house on a girl's birthday." p. 191. So as everything in history, there are great ambiguities surrounding Mao. This reminds me of the condemnation of Castro for his imprisoning of land-owners and homosexuals (all true) but the relative ignorance of the improvements in education and medicine (the best teams of doctors in any international crisis are bound to have a Cuban or more in them.) Such is life I suppose.

The Warrior Woman is a provocative and challenging voyage into Maxine Hong Kingston's life and dreams as a Chinese woman and remains a great piece of literature 40 years later.
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2017 – Shelved
January 23, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
February 22, 2017 – Started Reading
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 28
13.4% "Mesmerizing!!"
February 22, 2017 –
page 40
19.14% "Loving the second chapter! What a kickass positive female character! Wow! Awesome!"
February 23, 2017 – Shelved as: american-20th-c
February 23, 2017 – Shelved as: autobiography
February 23, 2017 – Shelved as: novels
February 23, 2017 – Shelved as: feminism
February 23, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by William (new)

William Wonderful review Thank you


Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac) I second that!


message 3: by Denise (new)

Denise H. Marvelous review dear Fino ! :) x


message 4: by Laura (new)

Laura Leaney Terrific review. I loved your personal anecdote related to "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," which was my own favorite part of this book.


Michael Finocchiaro Thanks William, Shawn, Denise and Laura!


message 6: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee I so enjoyed this review Fino. Thank you. I like the way you are able to see some good changes in oppressive systems !


Michael Finocchiaro Thanks Jaidee!


message 8: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Great review, Fino!


Michael Finocchiaro Thanks Deanna!


Bhavik (Semi Hiatus) Perfect book for women's day eh


Michael Finocchiaro Exactly!


Gaijinmama Excellent review. I absolutely agree with you that reality is rarely all bad or all good. KIngston explores these ambiguities beautifully.


Michael Finocchiaro :-)


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