|Maxine Hong Kingston (via)|
Reviewed by Christine-Chioma & Ingrid
It's about: This memoir is organized in a series of stories and legends. Some stories are from Kingston's own experiences, others are her mother's stories, and others without origin. All of the stories are about women in Kingston's family, and the stories weave together as if from a single source.
C-C thought: I loved the first narrative, "No Name Woman". In it Kingston's unnamed aunt becomes pregnant while her husband is at war. Kingston fictionalizes the details, emotions and motives behind the pregnancy and the ensuing persecution. The memoir's themes of woman's roles, family, and ancestry are well-woven into the haunting narrative and appropriately connect to Kingston's life. I also really enjoyed "The Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" which greatly focused on growing up as an immigrant's child. However, most of the other stories fell short. They were either too supernatural ("White Tiger") or disturbing ("Shaman") for me to appreciate. I found myself concentrating on understanding meaning that I assumed I was missing instead of enjoying the narrative.
Ingrid thought: The narrative of this book was a little confusing to me at first, because I wasn't sure who was narrating or whose story was whose. By the time I finished, though, I realized that Kingston did this on purpose. By appropriating the stories of her mother, her mother's sister, and her aunt on her father's side, Kingston is showing that their experiences have come to be a part of her individual identity. Ancestors and family are central to Chinese culture, so I thought it was especially beautiful that Kingston set up her memoir this way.
I'm glad I read this book, but it wasn't the most exciting book I've ever read. I appreciated how it was constructed, I liked how Kingston showed how stories and the telling of stories have helped her construct her own identity. But I just wasn't dying over this book. I think we'll put this one in between.
Verdict: In between.
Reading Recommendations: It's a book that would be great to read for a class and to analyze, but not really to enjoy.
Warnings: Some language
Favorite excerpts: "The work of preservation demands that the feelings playing about in one's guts not be turned into action. Just watch their passing like cherry blossoms. But perhaps my aunt, my forerunner, caught in a slow life, let dreams grow and fade and after some months or years went toward what persisted."
"Long ago in China, knot-makers tied strings into buttons and frogs, and rope into bell pulls. There was one so complicated that it blinded the knot-maker. Finally an emperor outlawed this cruel knot, and the nobles could not order it anymore. If I had lived in China, I would have been an outlaw knot-maker."
"To make my waking life American-normal, I turn on the lights before anything untoward makes an appearance. I push the deformed into my dreams, which are in Chinese, the language of impossible stories. Before we can leave our parents, they stuff our heads like the suitcases which they jam-packed with homemade underwear."