Bitches Book Club Review :: The Woman Warrior

The Book Club:

“At the end of May I was feeling sort of “meh” about the Goodreads book clubs I’m part of. No offence meant to them at all! I like them. But they’re just so BIG that the books I’m particularly interested in don’t often (read: ever?) get picked and there doesn’t feel like there’s enough incentive to take part sometimes. I wanted something that was smaller so, even if I’m not super jazzed about every single book, I feel motivated to read each one because I knew the other member(s) of the book club are reading too and because of the discussion that will ensue.

SO, of course, I voice messaged Claire about it and we decided on a book within the hour!

How it works is that one of us will pick the book one month and the other will pick the book for the next month.”

This month was Nikki’s choice: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

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Book: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Publisher: Vintage Books, 1976
Genre: Fictionalised Non-Fiction/Literary Fiction

Summary:With an introduction by Xiaolu Guo A classic memoir set during the Chinese revolution of the 1940s and inspired by folklore, providing a unique insight into the life of an immigrant in America. When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talking-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Throughout her childhood, Maxine Hong Kingston listened to her mother’s mesmerizing tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upwards. Growing up in a changing America, surrounded by Chinese myth and memory, this is her story of two cultures and one trenchant, lyrical journey into womanhood. Complex and beautiful, angry and adoring, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is a seminal piece of writing about emigration and identity. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 and is widely hailed as a feminist classic.
More Information: GoodReads

Nikki’s Thoughts & Rating:

This book is highly regarded and seems to be studied a lot in America for the way it handles issues of race, immigration, culture and feminism in an fantastical way that interweaves myth and reality. Even knowing this, it was fairly different from my expectations.

I suppose I expected it to be a more straightforward memoir, but I have difficulty thinking of it like that. It is, at best, a highly fictionalised memoir—emphasis on fictionalised. It’s difficult to tell what is real and what is not, but it is also difficult to tell what is a firsthand account and what is not (except that, knowing which character is Hong Kingston, most stories could only have been secondhand stories told from a first person perspective). That isn’t a negative necessarily. I appreciated the way she chose to tell these stories and write this book, but I find it a stretch to categorise it as non-fiction. It is as much non-fiction, in my opinion, as any author’s work of believable fiction can be. Each work of fiction has elements of an author’s experience that help ground the work and make it believable within its own world.

This is interesting for me because the way she writes is similar in some ways to Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin. Although the styles are similar but I responded much better to Chin’s work perhaps because it was already understood that it was fiction.

Claire mentions in her review that there was no central story tying the tales together and, while that doesn’t have to be a problem, I don’t think it worked well for me. It felt like I came to find out about Hong Kingston’s life and experiences and she tried to distract me with unrelated mythical stories that had enough nuggets of memories from her childhood to make me wonder if I should be piecing things together or just taking things at face value.

I’d say this book didn’t work for me overall. I’m uncomfortable with this level of fantasy in my non-fiction; it feels like I’m being told evasive lies rather than ‘metaphorical truths’ and if I’m reading to find out more about something, the stories feel more like they’re getting in the way and embellishing to the point of complete distortion so my understanding is no less hazy than it was when I first started reading.

The last chapter felt the most ‘truthful’/least fantastical, but it wasn’t remarkable. I would say the chapters go from most magical to least. I assume this is meant to correspond with how the further away she gets from China/her roots, the more mundane and less fantastic the tellings become. By this time I started to wonder why Hong Kingston was writing this ‘memoir’ at all and why I should care.

All that said, I didn’t dislike the book. In its favour, I feel like I took away a vague feeling of Chinese “story-talking” and I found all the advice about how Moon Orchid, Hong Kingston’s aunt, should confront her no-good husband very entertaining. I also enjoyed the imagery in the retelling of Fa Mu Lan’s story which seem like it would be good to illustrate. I think this chapter (White Tiger) was my favourite despite being the most fantastical. Maybe this is because the line was no ‘blurred’ so much as ‘understood to have been crossed’ and it felt more purposeful in its telling.

I probably wouldn’t recommend it, but I am willing to put that down to personal preference. I wonder if it would be better appreciated in an academic setting where everything can be subject to better, more informed analysis. I assume so.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Nikki’s favourite line(s):

“We’re all under the same sky and walk the same earth; we’re alive together during the same moment.”

DividerClaire’s Thoughts & Rating:

So, I had the unique pleasure of thoroughly thrashing Nikki for this pick. I received it on November 30th and I finished it on December 1st. I read it in one night- it isn’t a terribly difficult read and it was quite interesting. I had a few mixed feelings about this though- I will be terribly frank about that.

I will first say that it wasn’t what I expected? I thought it was going to be some metaphorical biography, or filled with bunches of magic realism. Instead fiction and nonfiction is woven together so you don’t quite know what is real and what is the author’s great imagination. I loved the way Kingston writes, she’s magic and dangerous and detailed. You get a real sort of picture for what she’s describing and you feel all of the emotions that come with it- the despair and anger and frustration.

It’s an interesting pick but I’d never have chosen this for myself. Nikki is really good at choosing books to read! My one quip was that I got a bit bored into it. It’s interesting but because there is no central sort of plot or giant quest, my brain got a tad disinterested. Not disinterested enough to stop- but to slow down my reading.

Additional Notes: I do agree with Nikki that in an academic setting this book might be transformed for me. As it is, in my current condition. I don’t read for the deeper meaning but the enjoyment and how it makes me feel in the longer run. It is a failing of sorts, that I don’t take the time to analyse every tome because this book is deserving of one. I think I’d have enjoyed it if I did it for school.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Claire’s Favorite Line:

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.”

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Have you read this book yet?

If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, do you want to?

January’s Book Club choice is Claire’s and she chose…

Feel free to read along with us! 🙂

NameNikkixClaire

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7 Responses to Bitches Book Club Review :: The Woman Warrior

  1. Pingback: Claire x Nikki Review January 2016 | Bitches With Books

  2. Pingback: Fiction in Non-Fiction | Bitches With Books

  3. moosha23 says:

    I haven’t read this but I agree with what you say about having a deeper appreciation for books you read academically and books you read for fun. I think perhaps it is because we skim over parts of the book that are probably plastered over the walls of the students who study them, or we are ignorant of the wider historical/social context of the text and its significance thereof.
    In fact I was reading the Preface of Reading the World by Ann Morgan a while back and she mentioned a book by some guy instructing you on how to read and he argued that to fully appreciate a book you must research everything about it so that you can understand everything it says without missing anything because of ignorance. I (and Morgan) think that’s a bit much but it is a chewy topic – why is it that if you read it academically you’ll appreciate it more, and if that really is the case what can we do to change it?

    • Nicole says:

      It’s weird because I actually really like reading books that require analysis for fun, but this didn’t work that way for me. I felt like the way it was done got in the way of its content instead of enhancing. I usually like to go into a book not knowing much at all and then reading up on it afterwards. It helps me to see what immediately comes across through the author’s writing without me having to be told. I think if I have to be told OR if I’ve been told and still am not convinced by it, in many cases, it wasn’t executed very well.
      On a related note: I think reading something ‘academically’/critically can make you gain some retroactive appreciation for it, but it doesn’t necessarily make you like it. 😉

  4. imyril says:

    I’m not familiar with this memoir, and from your initial descriptions it sounded fascinating… but with the detail from your reviews I think I (like you) would find it difficult. Perhaps if I approached it as fiction rather than autobiography.

    However, I’ve been meaning to read Lagoon for ages now, so I might read along with you in January!

    • Nicole says:

      Yes, I think approaching it as fiction might have had better results for me…
      Oh! We’d be really pleased if you read along with us! If you do, let us know what you thought 😀

      • imyril says:

        I’m fresh back from holiday and have a handy Christmas Kindle voucher, so Lagoon will be winging its way to me just as soon as I finish my current read 🙂

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