Books by Maxine Hong Kingston

I LOVE A BROAD MARGIN TO MY LIFE by Maxine Hong Kingston
Released: Jan. 18, 2011

"Kingston is clearly tuned in to a different frequency, and the rhythm of her writing complements her tone, but it's also erratic and lacks narrative traction."
Renowned Asian-American author Kingston (The Fifth Book of Peace, 2003, etc.) reflects on her life, as well as the lives of her most popular fictional characters, in this 240-page elegy. Read full book review >
THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE by Maxine Hong Kingston
Released: Sept. 8, 2003

"A colorful meandering that is most original and compelling when it focuses on the author's hard-won peace with her family."
A mix of memoir and fiction attempts to reconstruct a novel that burned—along with the author's home and family keepsakes—in the terrible Oakland Hills fire of 1991. Read full book review >
TRIPMASTER MONKEY by Maxine Hong Kingston
Released: April 27, 1989

In The Warrior Woman (1976) and China Men (1980), Kingston approached the genius of the Chinese-American heritage in a robust blaze of mythic intuitions and shrewd, historical, autobiographical notation. Here, in her first novel, she swirls stories from myth and wild circumstance about the Sixties' soul-journey of a recent Berkeley grad of Chinese ancestry—as he pads about the S.F. environs on Steppenwolfian, jumpy paws, experiencing Vietnam-era Fear and Loathing, love and friendship, and the creative bangs and shudders of a poet. He'll finally bring to birth "an enormous loud play. . .that will make us [Chinese-Americans] braver. . ." On the way to reawakening the Chinese soul via the great show, Wittman Ah Sing, fired from a department store (something naughty went on in Toys), parties (sans drugs) with inventively seeking pals and strenuously experiencing LSD heads; falls in love ("she likes me, a heartbreaker and a rover"); gets married (sort of), but the two may not love; visits satisfyingly mad parents; confronts the Government at the Unemployment Office; and at last casts his theatrical epic with a cast of Wittman's everybody (after all, "it takes enormous populations to play out all the ways of being human"). Among the cast: a Japanese friend and his Young Millionairess; the wife Wittman may not love and the beautiful girl he may; mother Ruby and her showgirl pals who'll perform again their (WW II) War Bonds China Rescue act; "old futs"; PoPo, the luck-crowned deserted grandmother; and a cast of neighborhood thousands. At the first night close (the play is continuous, night after night) of story, music, and dance, Wittman—in a fiery monologue—blasts the "innocent" ones who won't recognize other Americans in their native land ("We need to take the hyphen out. . .'American' the noun and 'Chinese' the adjective"). There are some enchanting turns here (a boring girl becomes a "blue boar" in a twinkling—" the lips moved, the tusks flashed"); and throughout Kingston offers bright-bannered "talk stories" of heroes and monsters, the grand and gruesome. But trips inside the head of a heavy experiencer and fantasizer can create a static, claustrophobic climate. As for Wittman's ethnic-pride orations—right on! (though better said than read). Rather a dense, occasionally rewarding trip, which should ride comfortably on the excellence of Kingston's nonfiction. Read full book review >
CHINA MEN by Maxine Hong Kingston
Released: June 13, 1980

What began with The Warrior Woman—Chinese immigrant women—is now continued with the focus on the China Men who left China for the Gold Mountain; and all of Kingston's different impulses—curatorial, reconstructive, celebratory, quizzical—are again brought into play. Starting with a remembrance of her father's misogynistic curses issued while he ironed in the family laundry in Stockton, California (Dog vomit. Your mother's cunt. Your mother's smelly cunt), Kingston traces backward and miscellaneously. There are the Chinese, for instance, who came to Hawaii and cut cane, who at day's end would cut huge holes in the earth and shout home greetings to China. Or those who swung out in baskets over ravines in the Sierra Nevada mountains to set explosive charges for railroad bridges (Through the wickerwork, slivers of depths darted like needles, nothing between him and air but thin rattan. Gusts of wind spun the light baskets)—only to be driven out of the territory after the railroad was built. And family stories: the uncles who quite acceptably saw ghosts or who turned paranoid or who were driven mad by guilt and cured by expiation. Kingston's non-sentimental approach to ethnicity remains one of her strongest bases—her knowledge that a people's particular and real madness is one of its most enduring flavors. Meanwhile, too, the autobiographical thread runs snakily throughout: Kingston's father's myth-encrusted coming-to-America begins a cycle that ends with her brother's being stationed in Taiwan during the Vietnam War. And it's all delivered in short, clustering swags of prose—which usually have a hypnotically appealing command; when not, the jigsaw-puzzle approach—piece next to piece—does sometimes flirt with imagist pretension. But, self-conscious lapses aside, this remains in sum—like Warrior Woman—exemplary history in the personal, investigatory mode. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 17, 1976

How closely they guarded their lives, those Chinese-Americans pressing the clothes, so that we were never able to focus on them or comprehend their outlook. Concealment thwarted the gods, the author of these extraordinary memoirs reports, and their American-born children too—always trying to get things straight, to name the unspeakable. But her mother talked stories in warning, and these merged into dreams, hopes, new stories. One aunt, cast out by the family, drowned herself and her newborn bastard daughter in the well: Adultery is extravagance. Could people who hatch their own chicks and eat the embryos and the heads. . .—could such people engender a prodigal aunt? To be a woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was waste enough. But if women must be slaves, they may also be warriors (the book is hospitable to paradox) like the warrior woman Fa Mu Lan, whose story becomes the author's as—no maidenly Joan of Arc—she rides into battle with her childhood friend/ husband at her side and her infant son inside her armor. (My American life has been such a disappointment.) Her mother studies medicine and, to impress her schoolmates, routs a ghost; she yanks bones straight in a silk robe and western shoes (until my father sent for her to live in the Bronx). An elderly aunt from Hong Kong is goaded into reclaiming the husband, since remarried, who has not seen her—but has supported her—for thirty years. The tightknit story of their confrontation is the author's invention, an intricate Chinese knot like the one once proscribed to protect the knot-maker's eyes: If I had lived in China, I would have been an outlaw knot-maker. Still, she wants to go back to China to sort out what's just my childhood, just my imagination, just my family, just the movies, just living. The several strands, inseparable here, create a spirit-presence you won't soon forget. Read full book review >