The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Maxine Hong Kingston

Book cover

I liked this even more than I expected to. I knew it was a classic, but I was really impressed with both MHK’s writing and the inventive structure of the book. Although it is a memoir, MHK doesn’t make any effort to give the book a temporal structure or orient the reader to how events fit with one another. The book rather consists of five different stories, which blend to varying degrees events from MHK’s own life and those of her relatives along with Chinese folktales. I got the impression while reading that these were just the five things that MHK was most interested in writing about, and she leaves it to you to draw the logical and conceptual relationships between them.

I think overall this style works well because the book is just packed with memorable sections. The first part, “No Name Woman,” resonated a lot with me because it’s similar to a story my partner’s dad recently pieced together about his own family. The second part, “White Tigers,” is basically a re-telling of the story of Fa Mu Lan (Hua Mulan) and really grabbed me as MHK just drops you into a fantasy story without warning. The third section, “Shaman,” about her mother’s medical training in China, was probably my favorite. The scene of her determinedly sleeping in the haunted room to prove her bravery is so memorable. The fourth section, “At the Western Palace,” has hilarious and memorable scenes of a bunch of family members driving down to LA to confront an estranged husband at his medical clinic. And finally, the fifth section, “Song for Barbarian Reed Pipe,” has MHK’s memorable childhood list of things she is afraid to say to her mother.

A very distinctive book that still feels fresh more than 40 years after its original publication.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars