The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts follows author Maxine Hong Kingston's memories of growing up as a child of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. The book is a post-modern text, meaning that it's collage-like in form and complicates the idea of an authentic self. The book that The New York Times calls "a poem turned into a sword" jumps from a forgotten aunt's suicide to a suspended reality where the author is Fa Mu Lan (a famous warrior from an epic Chinese poem). It then dives into her mother's battle against ghosts, and plunges on into the tale of another aunt's sanctuary in an insane asylum.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, this unconventional collection of memoirs blurs the line between reality and fantasy. The memoir seems to ask: How do you tell the truth of your life when it feels less like facts and more like a collection of sensations and other people's stories? Kingston answers the question by putting her own spin on her mother's stories, using them to tell the story that she wants her life to be. If you're into this book, you should also check out its companion, China Men.
Take a moment to think about how you would write your memoirs. You'd probably want to include the details that you think are most important to your identity. Maybe you'd include a bit of information about your parents, then talk about your birth, your first day of school and who your kindergarten teacher was, your first girlfriend or boyfriend…
Are these factual events the things that make up your identity? What if you could create your own identity out of a mixture of your actual life events, your imagination, and family and cultural memories? Maxine Hong Kingston's memoirs, The Woman Warrior, don't just stick to the factual events of her life. Kingston imagines herself as a Chinese warrior, Fa Mu Lan, and dives into the memories of her family members.
Kingston provokes many questions: What makes up a person's identity? Can we re-create our own identities by incorporating stories about ourselves and our families that may not be literally true? Would that be a more or less accurate presentation of our true identity? What do you think?