Have you ever read a book and wished you could attend a class on it? That was my experience with The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston.
Yet again, I have to thank book club for introducing me to a book that I might never have read. A good book club is truly one of the best ways to expand your reading horizons!
The Woman Warrior is a memoir, published in 1976, which sees Kingston grapple with growing up Chinese-American.
There are five chapters, each focusing on a different woman with importance in Kingston’s life. They are Kingston’s aunt “No-Name Woman”, warrior legend Fa Mu Lan, Kingston’s mother Brave Orchid, Kingston’s aunt Moon Orchid and Kingston herself.
Truth, lies and talk-story
Kingston’s experiences of talk-stories are central to the book.
A talk-story is an oral recounting of an event – usually it’s Kingston’s mother, Brave Orchid, talking-story.
As Kingston tries to figure out which parts of the stories are true and which bits are made up, we feel her frustration. We were all left speculating where the truth began and ended.
It was only at the end of our discussion at book club, that our Marion (who picked the book), revealed that she had read it at university as part of a course on memoirs . . . and this book was the text used as an example for an unreliable narrator used well.
Aha! It all clicked!
Ghosts and the in between
Most people outside of Kingston’s family are described as “Ghosts” in the book. I found this so interesting.
It made me think that the family were in a sort of purgatory. They were always in between states and neither here nor there.
The older generation, the mother and father who had moved to the USA, were always talking about China and about how, eventually, they would all return.
The younger generation couldn’t relate to any of the stories of their parent’s homeland or the traditions they held. They were growing up surrounded by American culture.
Using the word “Ghost” to describe most of the people they encountered in the U.S.A., put such a distance between the family and the world around them.
It makes you take your time
As I said when I started this review, this book made me want to attend a class to delve deeper into the themes and motifs. It’s one that I could revisit over and over and get something new from each time.
It makes you take your time – the poetic writing always seems to hold a hidden meaning.
I had to go back and re-read several passages.
While this is not one I would recommend for everyone, and it took me a couple of chapters to really get into it, I have to admit that it’s still lingering in the back of my mind.
It’s one to make you think!
Read more book reviews from the team here.