This is a review essay of the book ‘The Woman Warrior: A Case Book’ by Maxine Hong Kingston. It is a volume of Oxford’s casebooks and it collects key documents and criticism on one of the most read literary text in American institutions of education. However, this new series focuses on primarily on fiction by multicultural authors.
Compiling a casebook is mainly a stressing task because it involves the tedious task of excluding many important studies from the main documents and essays that will finally be featured in the collection. What to leave in and what to leave out does not only depend on the quality of criticism but also the need to balance the various critical works.
For Sau-Ling Wong, a renowned Asian-Americanist, the selection might have provided a bigger challenge putting into consideration that Kingston’s ‘The Woman Warrior,’ had not only generated an unusually large scholarship for a quarter century since its initial publication in 1976, but also a fierce controversy rarely seen in contemporary literary studies.
The casebook contains one interview, one fictional satire, five critical essays and two chapters thus making it one of the best guide for instructors and students willing to take a quick tour of this Asian American phenomenal work of literature and still capture some of its highlights of vast scholarship. The casebook has a prominent focus on the controversy that The Woman Warrior has generated among the Chinese American communities.
The reception of the book was an interesting one. The mainstream media enthusiastically welcomed the book while a part of the Chinese American Community questioned the way the author had made liberal use of Chinese historical myths. A part of the Chinese American community was not happy with her portrayal of the Chinese American Community. Sau-Ling Wang’s critical overview gives a comprehensive account of the controversy with a focus on the question; what extent fictional works are incorporated in works purported to be an autobiography?
Sau-Ling’s Wong also make a good argument for the extravagance of self-actualization notable in Kingston’s work. However, she has underestimated the burden of dual-authenticity on the ethnic writer. The book would seem to a Chinese reader to be twisted in that at first it is based on Chinese history but later it adopts the American imagination. However, in America where most readers lack the necessary cultural immersion, the work of Kingston may be misread and this most likely ends up disastrously.
The casebook presents a less than adequate sample of scholarship critical of Kingston’s fantasy drawing of Chinese history, culture as well as Chinese American realism. She also include Fran Chin’s ‘The Most Popular Book in China’ which rides on emotional excesses and therefore does not offer the most considered critique available. Sau-Ling might have used Jeffrey Paul Chan’s and Benjamin Tong’s Criticism of Kingston’s translation of the word ghost to Keui as an example of her pandering to white taste. She could also have used Lauren Mar’s “Leaping Beyond The Woman Warrior: The Myths and Realities of a Culture,” which questions Kingston’s version of the Chinese Culture and her representation of the Chinese American Community. There is also a list of other books she could have used to bring out a scholarly critique competently.