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The Fifth Book of Peace Hardcover – September 2, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

When, fourteen years ago, Kingston embarked on a sequel to her delightful novel "Tripmaster Monkey," she called it "The Fourth Book of Peace," echoing a half-remembered Chinese legend about Three Books of Peace. But the manuscript was destroyed in a fire—a suggestive occurrence to Kingston, because the books in the legend were also burned. Here she re-creates her lost fictional narrative and sets it alongside an account of her life after the fire, so that the Vietnam-era doings of her antic hero, Wittman Ah Sing, who moves to Hawaii to evade the draft, are juxtaposed with her own experience teaching writing workshops for veterans of Vietnam and other wars. The book is rich in empathy and moral conviction, but Kingston is such an exuberant storyteller that fans may regret that the fictional part remains unfinished.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679440755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679440758
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Most of us who live in the Oakland/Berkeley area are familiar with the fact that Maxine Hong Kingston's home, containing her only copy of a nearly finished book, burned to the ground in the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991. She was returning from her father's funeral when she saw the hills in flames and made an attempt to save her manuscript. The lost novel was titled The Fourth Book of Peace, inspired by an ancient Chinese tale of three books that were deliberately burned.
Her new book, The Fifth Book of Peace, deals with her efforts to come to terms with her own losses as well as an attempt to understand the suffering of those who are veterans and survivors of war. This luminous book is set in four sections: Fire, a firsthand report of the 1991 inferno; Paper, her search for the original books of peace; Water, a recreation of her lost novel about a couple who flees to Hawaii to avoid the Vietnam War; and Earth, Kingston's moving account of the writing workshops she organized for war veterans.
Always a compelling writer, Maxine Hong Kingston has written a wise and spell-binding meditation on the power of Story and the challenge of living and acting on one's beliefs; she guides us toward peace without avoiding the fact that we live in a world at war.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By matthewslaughter on December 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Because of the subject matter of this book--which is predominantly about Kingston's writers groups for War Veterans--and because I love so much of her earlier writing, I do feel guilty giving "The Fifth Book of Peace" three stars. But, in the following sentences, I will explain my reasons for doing so. "The Fifth Book of Peace," like "The Woman Warrior" and "China Men" before it, mixes memoir with fiction. The first chapter, "Fire," is about Kingston's painful recollections of losing her home in the Berkeley Hills/Oakland fire of 1991--which sadly coincided with the passing of her father. The second chapter, "Paper," has Kingston elaborating on her quest for the Books of Peace, which might exist, or which might simply be a figment of her imagination. This material is very intriguing. But, from the third chapter on, "The Fifth Book of Peace" loses its early momentum. The third chapter, "Water," is a sequel to what might arguably be her masterpiece, "Tripmaster Monkey." In that novel, Wittman Ah Sing, the protagonist, fills the narrative with opinionated witticisms about art, culture and life. That same energy is completely lacking in "Water": Kingston's narrative (the original draft of which was lost in the fire) is for the most part in the third person here, describing Wittman and Tana's (his wife) move to Hawaii to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. Here the theme of peace is driven home in some very emotional scenes--my favorite being Wittman's intervention at a Sanctuary for those who do not want to serve in the Vietnam War. The longest chapter, "Earth," focuses on her writing group for War Veterans and overcoming human violence (war) through an emphasis on peace. But, as one of the Veterans--Severe Ted--says, "Violence makes a good story. It's dramatic.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence R. Smith on October 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In Maxine Hong Kingston's brilliant new book, THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE, she pulls together her entire life, as well as all the major characters of THE WOMAN WARRIOR, CHINA MEN, and TRIPMASTER MONKEY, in order to achieve an extraordinary feat of reconciliation, a vision as honestly won as the dancing circle at the end of Fellini's "8 1/2." It is a book that overflows with wisdom, marvelous humor, and lyrical beauty, all in the service of exploring a most serious question: can we live together in peace? The author looks into the abyss created by humanity's impulse toward destruction: of other human beings, the earth, beauty, and even self. She knows that it is her duty to harmonize those conflicting impulses into a peaceful, viable community. She is driven by a yearning for comedy rather than tragedy. It is not comedy in the sense of sitcoms, but in the classical sense of Dante's great work, where we find at the center of the universe not destruction but a mystic rose. Or, in the case of THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE, we find a lotus. This is the best book I have read in a long, long time. Do not miss it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to define the genre of this 2003 book, the latest by this well-known Chinese-American author who is best known for her early work "The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts", the story of her girlhood in San Francisco. Years have passed and she has several other books to her credit. From the photo on the book jacket I see her hair is now gray and know that and she has lived through a changing America. The 70s and the peace movement have influenced her. And basically, this is what her book is about, told through the eyes of her Buddhist faith and her deep believe in peace.

The book is 402 pages long and is divided into three sections. Each one is different and yet connected. The first section is pure memoir, written with an artist's touch. It's the story of the fire in her Oakland community in the early 1990s and how her home burned to the ground. Among other things, a manuscript for a novel was destroyed. She has rewritten that novel which is the second, and longest, section of the book. The third sections tell of her experiences in running writing workshops for veterans, and this section could be classified as "self-help". Hence there is confusions of genres which makes it difficult for libraries and booksellers to categorize this book.

The entire work might be thought of in the context of literature in response to war and can be viewed as an epic journey, as our heroine must conquer obstacles and develop much self knowledge as she brings her message of peace to the world. She's well versed in the classics and there are constant references the Odyssey and other literary works as well as symbolism from all of the world's religions.
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