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Reviewed by:
Maureen Sabine. Maxine Hong Kingston's Broken Book of Life: An Intertextual Study of The Woman Warrior and China Men. Honolulu: U of Hawai'i P, 2004. ix + 229 pp.

In the social ferment of the Women's Movement in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, a number of Chinese American women writers were actively engaged in recovering the psychosocial and historical experiences of women who had been marginalized or erased within masculinist discourses and institutions. One area of primary exploration was the complex relationships between mothers and daughters situated at the intersections of families, cultures, and communities in the US and China. However, for some writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, it was important to move beyond reductive binaries that separate the experiences of women from men and to recover and write men's stories back into domestic and communal spaces, starting with the history of the father. In many interviews, she has long expressed her continual disappointment in this unbalanced focus on her women's stories over her men's stories, advocating for the importance of reading these two books together. Both women and men confront multiple oppressions of sexism, classism, and racism in different and similar ways. Physical, psychosocial, and cultural forms of suffering and violence profoundly affect their lives and well-being, resonating into their extended ethnic families and communities. Like mothers, Chinese American men as fathers are crucial to an understanding of familial and community building processes in The Woman Warrior and China Men. Kingston attempts to recover the fathers' stories, attending as best as she can to the emotional, social, and physical trauma in their lives.

In Maxine Hong Kingston's Broken Book of Life: An Intertextual Study of The Woman Warrior and China Men, Maureen Sabine takes up Kingston's challenge by doing a detailed intertextual reading of these two texts. She brings these two texts into an interactive and [End Page 221] multilayered dialogue with each other. In her introduction, she provides the reader with her feminist and pyschoanalytic frames of reference in order to address the fluctuating shifts in the psychosocial space and time of Kingston's innovative autobiographical fictions. Sabine is sensitive to the complexity in grappling with an autobiographical form of self-representation that is "a complex synthesis of personal history, private fantasy, and compensatory fictions embedded in a larger family, social and ethnic narrative" (3). In the introduction she provides a rationale for her intertextual approach and argument as well as a map for the four following chapters. Sabine has great energy in teasing out possibilities in an intertextual reading. However, the chapters are structurally long and often densely packed with ideas that can lead in many directions. Numerous titles and subtitles used to organize chapter sections sometimes become distracting rather than helpful. Tighter organization and editing of the chapters would have helped a reader better negotiate this very interesting study.

In chapter 1, Sabine makes the opening case for an intertextual reading of the Woman Warrior and China Men. She discusses the theoretical roots for this approach, especially the concept of intertexuality defined by Julia Kristeva in her study of Mikhail Bakhtin's influential work on dialogism and heteroglossia. Kristeva's basic theoretical assumption for intertextuality is that a text is a mosaic of references to or quotations from other texts. Such a text is permeable and continually engaged in dialogue with other diverse texts, genres, and voices. For Sabine, this concept is central for understanding the various ways the daughter-writer negotiates and translates the diverse texts that repress and reveal the traumatic history of family and community in The Woman Warrior and China Men. She grapples with the oral Say Yup talk-story texts embedded in the psychic, social, and cultural codes of her Chinese mother, Brave Orchid. At the same time, she writes in forms of American English that have their own literary and intellectual genealogies and codes. How does she dialogue with these diversely situated voices, stories, genres, and languages? How does the father's history as a scholar-poet, as an intertextual reader, writer, translator, and commentator of poetry and literature (including his daughter-writer's texts), contribute to her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 221-225
Launched on MUSE
2006-04-26
Open Access
No
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