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The Fifth Book of Peaceby Maxine Hong Kingston
Synopses & Reviews
The Fifth Book of Peace opens as Maxine Hong Kingston, driving home from her father’s funeral in the early 1990s, discovers that her neighborhood in the Oakland-Berkeley hills is engulfed in flames. Her home burns to the ground, and with it, all her earthly possessions, including her novel-in-progress. Kingston, who at the time was deeply disturbed by the Persian Gulf War, decides that she must understand her own loss of all she possessed as a kind of shadow-experience of war: a lesson about what it would be like to experience up close its utter devastation. Thus she embarks on a mission to re-create her novel from scratch, to rebuild her life, and to reach out to veterans of war and share with them her views as a lover of peace.
In the middle section of this remarkable book, Kingston reconstructs for us her lost novel, the lush and compelling story of the Chinese-American Wittman Ah Sing and his wife, Taña–California artists who flee to Hawaii to evade the draft during the Vietnam War. Wittman and Taña help to create an official Sanctuary for deserters and GIs who’ve returned devastated by their experiences in Vietnam–not unlike, as it turns out, the metaphorical sanctuary Maxine creates, back in her real world, by inviting war veterans to participate in writing workshops. As the vets share their stories, she teaches them both the value of writing–the accurate transcription of what is in the heart–and the value of community.
Paradoxically, the stories of war and its terrors become for her and the vets a literature of peace–words that enable them to achieve peace, at least within themselves. Moving among the vets with her Buddhist-inflected wisdom and at times humorous self-doubts, weaving their stories together with her own struggle to reorient herself after the fire, Maxine Hong Kingston is at times a kind of sprite, an almost weightless spirit, who guides others toward a better place, and at times a challenging teacher, who will not let us turn from the spectacle of a world so often at war.
From the Hardcover edition.
A memoir of the author's losses to fire and her work with Vietnam veterans also includes a novel about a Chinese American man and his wife who flee to Hawaii to evade the draft during the Vietnam War, only to work with Vietnam veterans.
A long time ago in China, there existed three Books of Peace that proved so threatening to the reigning powers that they had them burned. Many years later Maxine Hong Kingston wrote a Fourth Book of Peace, but it too was burned--in the catastrophic Berkeley-Oakland Hills fire of 1991, a fire that coincided with the death of her father. Now in this visionary and redemptive work, Kingston completes her interrupted labor, weaving fiction and memoir into a luminous meditation on war and peace, devastation and renewal.
About the Author
Maxine Hong Kingston is Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley. For her memoirs and fiction, The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and Hawai’i One Summer, she has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the PEN West Award for Fiction, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the title of “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.”
From the Hardcover edition.
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