I picked this book up at the friends of the library used book sale (on a date, no less). I hadn’t looked at it again since until I was reorganizing my bookshelf (aka integrating the books that would now fit thanks to my previous thinning).
I read an excerpt of the first story in the memoir for a class a few years back, so I recognized it and I was immediately sure I’d picked up the right book to read. No Name Woman is written beautifully, and I was hooked on Kingston. I fell into Kingston’s writing and didn’t want to come back out of it. She’s very literary; not necessarily a breeze to read, but it’s so worth it.
Kingston delves into Chinese culture, going so far back as foot binding. Threading of eyebrows is mentioned as well, something that I deplore (hair removal in general sucks). She writes about the way that Chinese women walk, talk, and eat; the silence at the table compared to the shouting of normal communication. Both hands holding each bowl.
If you’d like to get a feel for her writing, I’ve found a PDF of No Name Woman here.
White Tigers is the second story in the book, and it begins with talk-stories from her mother about women who are heroines. Fa Mu Lan is one, but Kingston’s is just as powerful. I love the intertwining of myth with memoir; her talk-story self is a woman warrior, and it is an incredibly empowering story. Even the menstrual cycle is mentioned, in a shameless and almost glorious way. She wanted more than just to be a wife, and her story realized her wildest dreams. When this story ties into her Chinese-American reality, there’s a lot less myth and amusement, but a lot more information. Kingston’s cultures are vast and complex, and I’m happy to have been able to peek in at her experiences.
Shaman is just as beautifully written, and gives a lot of insight on Kingston’s mother. Her background in medicine, her schooling and other general badassery, also including more talk-stories. A woman professional, she took a serious step down from her prestige as a doctor in China when she came to America to work in a Laundry.
It’s in Shaman that Kingston let’s the reader know that “ghosts” are foreigners; in America everyone is a ghost to her, etc. At the Western Palace describes an Aunt’s move from China to America to rejoin her family, and A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe discusses Kingston’s childhood and adolescence. It does contain some serious ableism, so reader beware.
Kingston’s writing is unmistakably sharp. It is as pointed as the swords she mentions in her talk-stories. She writes with a fierceness that is absolutely exhilarating. Reading work from a passionate woman is incredible, especially in the case of such an underrepresented culture.
Overall, I truly loved this book. I picked it up for $1 because I vaguely recognized Kingston’s name, and I am so so glad I did. It’s empowering in many ways, and it doesn’t provide a singular, demure view of domesticity. There are several strong women written of in this book, as well as a view on what it was like to be a woman in China and in America in those time periods. The Woman Warrior is written entirely on women, as a means to discuss culture and womanhood in a way that is uniquely Kingston’s and Chinese-American. I consider it an essential read for intersectional feminists.
I give this book an 8/10.