CHINA MEN by Maxine Hong Kingston


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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.
Pub Date: June 13th, 1980
ISBN: 0679723285
Page count: 307pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1980


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