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THE WOMAN WARRIOR by Maxine Hong Kingston (Vintage: $6.95)

July 02, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Maxine Hong Kingston blends personal memory, family history and fantasy in this impressionistic autobiography, which won a National Book Critic's Circle Award in 1976.

A first-generation American, Kingston describes the conflict between her emerging Western identity and the submissive behavior her Chinese-born parents expected. Differing cultural attitudes often crystallized around minor points: Americans regard it as good manners to look a listener in the eye; Chinese are taught to modestly avert their eyes as a sign of respect.

However, the key to the conflict was the clash between Kingston's nascent feminism and the sexism of traditional Chinese culture. In her parents' village, peasant girls were born to servitude, slavery and, often, infanticide, while the birth of a boy was an occasion for a village-wide party. Even in the United States, a great-uncle called her and five other female relatives "maggots" at meal times, but lavished gifts on his only grandson.

This beautifully written book is notable for its captivating imagery as well as its intriguing subject.

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