By Maxine Hong Kingston
A Chinese American woman tells of the Chinese myths, family stories and events of her California childhood that have shaped her identity.
I’ve always felt like books from certain cultures have certain flavors, that seem to be a product of the culture and language itself, rather than individual authors. Spanish and Chinese stories I’ve noticed exhibit this the most.
This novel, though non-fiction, felt very similar to Amy Tan’s fiction novels. Beautiful, lyrical, haunting, but also raw and a bit messy in what they describe. I’ve long thought of Chinese culture as being reserved and unwilling to really talk about the more personal aspects of human nature e.g. sex, childbirth, death, etc. But their literature is certainly unafraid to deal with these things, in a no-nonsense, get-your-hands-dirty way.
This seems to be a memoir of sorts, but it weaves in fictional stories and myths of ancestors and others in the telling of its author’s identity.
The book is divided into five sections that deal with different women: the author’s dead aunt on her father’s side, Mulan, the author’s mother, the author’s mother and her sister, and finally the author herself.
I found all of the stories very engaging and very beautifully written. The structure might seem odd to some readers, but if you just roll with it, it flows and fits together nicely. I read this all in one sitting on the plane ride back from California, which I felt was such a great way to experience this book, especially since it isn’t very long.