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The Fifth Book of Peace


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About the Author

Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who operated a gambling house in the 1940s, when Maxine was born, and then a laundry where Kingston and her brothers and sisters toiled long hours. Kingston graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley, and, in the same year, married actor Earll Kingston, whom she had met in an English course. The couple has one son, Joseph, who was born in 1963. They were active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but in 1967 the Kingstons headed for Japan to escape the increasing violence and drugs of the antiwar movement. They settled instead in Hawai'i, where Kingston took various teaching posts. They returned to California seventeen years later, and Kingston resumed teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

While in Hawai'i, Kingston wrote her first two books. The Woman Warrior, her first book, was published in 1976 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, making her a literary celebrity at age thirty-six. Her second book, China Men, earned the National Book Award. Still today, both books are widely taught in literature and other classes. Kingston has earned additional awards, including the PEN West Award for Fiction for Tripmaster Monkey, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President Clinton, as well as the title "Living Treasure of Hawai'i" bestowed by a Honolulu Buddhist church. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawai'i One Summer, and latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.


In September 1991, Kingston (The Woman Warrior; China Men; etc.) drove toward her Oakland, Calif., home after attending her father's funeral. The hills were burning; she unwittingly risked her life attempting to rescue her novel-in-progress, The Fourth Book of Peace. Nothing remained of the novel except a block of ash; all that remained of her possessions were intricate twinings of molten glass, blackened jade jewelry and the chimney of what was once home to her and her husband. This work retells the novel-in-progress (an autobiographical tale of Wittman Ah Sing, a poet who flees to Hawaii to evade the Vietnam draft with his white wife and young son); details Kingston's harrowing trek to find her house amid the ruins; accompanies the author on her quest to discern myths regarding the Chinese Three Lost Books of Peace and, finally, submits Kingston's remarkable call to veterans of all wars (though Vietnam plays the largest role) to help her convey a literature of peace through their and her writings. Kingston writes in a panoply of languages: American, Chinese, poetry, dreams, mythos, song, history, hallucination, meditation, tragedy-all are invoked in this complex stream-of-consciousness memoir, which questions repeatedly and intrinsically: Why war? Why not peace? The last war on Iraq and the current one meld here, as do wars thousands of years old. Complicated, convoluted, fascinating and, in the final section, poignant almost beyond bearability, this work illumines one writer's experience of war and remembrance while elevating a personal search to a cosmic quest for truth. This is vintage Kingston: agent provocateur, she once again follows her mother's dictate to "educate the world." (Sept. 8) Forecast: As previous winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Kingston has a commanding audience to rally for this long-delayed and -awaited book. Knopf plans a 50,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Acclaimed writer Kingston (The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts) has created a lyrical memoir of momentous events in her life-the death of her father and her mother, the destruction of her house by fire on the day she attended her father's funeral, the search for the ancient Chinese Books of Peace, and the organization of a series of writing workshops for Vietnam War veterans. Kingston explains that the Books of Peace were born when Chinese civilization came into being but then were lost. She works to find them, believing that their recovery may save the world from the never-ending horror of war. Kingston writes her own Book of Peace here, telling the story of a Vietnam War draft dodger. Her vivid portrayal of the too familiar elements of the Vietnamese conflict-war protests, peace demonstrations, AWOL GIs, and hippies-is disturbing and convincing. And the admirable goal of the writing workshops she conducted with the Vietnam vets was to help them "put that war into words, and through language make sense, meaning, art of it." With this memoir, Kingston continues her life's admirable task, given to her by her mother, of educating the world. Hence her powerful admonition: "In a time of destruction, create something." Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"A trenchant opus about surviving the fires of life. . .a wonderful, mulitlayered work. Marvelous." --San Francisco Chronicle

"Her prose . . . is masterly, at times nearly overwhelming in its descriptive power. . . . The world--and not just the world of literature--owes Maxine Hong Kingston a huge debt of gratitude." - The Washington Post Book World

"Gorgeous. . . . [A] work of love and power-straight from Kingston's brilliant and passionate heart-and her vision of peace is undeniable. You have to see it, too."-Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A moving testament to Kingston's determination and compassion, and a document of how one can survive pain, loss and the burden of history." - San Jose Mercury News

"A strange, scarred thing, pieced together from fragments, smelling of smoke and anguish. Its power lies in its pain." --The New York Times Book Review

"Rich in empathy and moral conviction. . . . Kingston is . . . an exuberant storyteller." --The New Yorker

"Astonishing. . . . Part fiction and part autobiography, revery, prophecy, and how to manual. . . . Wherever we are in this fifth book . . . Kingston is a lotus, a flowering of divine intellect, and a bodhisattva, sticking around, one birth short of nirvana, to ease our suffering." -Harper's Magazine

"A sharp, aching account. . . . [It] captivates . . . because of the splashy urgency of its writing."-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Kaleidoscopic . . . Mesmerizing. . . . Employing language that is a lush and vibrant lure skimming the still lake of our collective experience as Americans who have attended far too many wars in far too few years, Kingston reels in the big questions . . . and displays them with both authority and care. The Fifth Book of Peace is a big book, chock full of real, not self, importance." --The Baltimore Sun

"Powerful. . . . Kingston's elegant arc from the person to the global constitutes a profound act of humility and compassion." -Pittsburg Post-Gazette

"I loved it-I couldn't stop reading it. Maxine Hong Kingston is one of our best writers. The Fifth Book of Peace has the generosity of spirit and the luminous prose we so urgently need in this time of war after war." -Leslie Marmon Silko

"A passionate plea that draws on U.S. history and Buddhist wisdom to argue for an all-inclusive and peaceful world."-People Magazine

"Moving. . . . A richly various extended meditation on peace. . . . The lesson embodied in The Fifth Book of Peace could not be more timely." -Boston Globe

"An amazing testament to the existence of peace, even in the midst of war. The book is a communal effort, beautifully orchestrated by Hong Kingston and pieced together with open eyes. She doesn't romanticize, doesn't ignore the failures of past peace movements, but bravely searches for new possibilities." --Rocky Mountain News

"Beautifully rendered. . . . Intelligent and poetic. . . . Kingston gives readers entr?e into something powerful." --Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Dense, complex, urgent. . . . Kingston is interested here in the process of telling stories to come to a happy ending." --Newsday

"Immediately striking about The Fifth Book of Peace is the uncanniness with which it nails the anxiety of this nation. . . . Kingston's stories and practices-and particularly her characters, both real and imagined-have a refreshing authenticity." -The Oregonian

"Intense, often moving. . . . [Kingston] lays down layers of meaning, deftly weaving symbolism and imagery." --The Miami Herald

"An arresting tour de force. . . . This is surely a better book than the one [Kingston] lost." -Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"[An] uncompromising examination of the meanings of peace. . . . Secrets and truths that lesser writers would take to their graves, [Kingston] delivers with startling openness. . . . She has gathered a community of the lost, the disempowered, the people who never get to write alternative histories, and gifted them the fierce power of her voice." -The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Her recounting of the fire is astonishing. She has a poet's eye for description. . . . Kingston has . . . create[d] something good out of painful memories." --Austin American-Statesman

"Powerful. . . . Thoughtful and passionate." --Entertainment Weekly

"Gripping. . . . [Filled] with bracing honesty. . . . Kingston has written a moving, urgent book that discounts facile notions of peace as a passive state." -Charleston Post & Courier

"Satisfying. . . . Surreal, vivid detail."-Columbus Dispatch

"Brilliantly imaginative. . . . Fine writing and intriguing stories. . . . As always, Kingston is a superb stylist." -The Sunday Star-Ledger

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