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I Love a Broad Margin to My Life [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Maxine Hong Kingston
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 18, 2011
In her singular voice—humble, elegiac, practical—Maxine Hong Kingston sets out to reflect on aging as she turns sixty-five.

Kingston’s swift, effortlessly flowing verse lines feel instantly natural in this fresh approach to the art of memoir, as she circles from present to past and back, from lunch with a writer friend to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, from her long marriage (“can’t divorce until we get it right. / Love, that is. Get love right”) to her arrest at a peace march in Washington, where she and her "sisters" protested the Iraq war in the George W. Bush years. Kingston embraces Thoreau’s notion of a “broad margin,” hoping to expand her vista: “I’m standing on top of a hill; / I can see everywhichway— / the long way that I came, and the few / places I have yet to go. Treat / my whole life as if it were a day.”

On her journeys as writer, peace activist, teacher, and mother, Kingston revisits her most beloved characters: she learns the final fate of her Woman Warrior, and she takes her Tripmaster Monkey, a hip Chinese American, on a journey through China, where he has never been—a trip that becomes a beautiful meditation on the country then and now, on a culture where rice farmers still work in the age-old way, even as a new era is dawning. “All over China,” she writes, “and places where Chinese are, populations / are on the move, going home. That home / where Mother and Father are buried. Doors / between heaven and earth open wide.”

Such is the spirit of this wonderful book—a sense of doors opening wide onto an American life of great purpose and joy, and the tonic wisdom of a writer we have come to cherish.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Told in free verse reminiscent of one of Kingston's idols, Walt Whitman, this uncommon memoir of the artist at 65 is informed by the wide margins on the pages of the Chinese editions of her works (margins her father used to write in). Kingston revisits characters, like Wittman Ah Sing, the monkey from her first novel, and themes from her books: her pacifist, feminist activism; the challenge of stereotypes; East and West. Though this homage to aging, with wisdom gained through a freewheeling reflection on family, the past, fate (karma, we're reminded, means "work," not "doom"), and self-reliance (which is a translation of Kingston's Chinese name, Ting Ting), often rambles, it also has the cohesion and intricate logic of a musical composition. The artist is a mental traveler, presenting her life as a dreamlike journey that culminates in a listing of "my dead," some 50 names, which both pulls Kingston toward oblivion ("Each one who dies, I want to go with you") and inspires seven reasons to live. The desire to create recedes ("I regret always writing, writing") as the memoirist sees herself becoming "reader of the world," a "surprise world" that frees her from the need to create it with words. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* The title is from Thoreau, and it is the perfect credo for Kingston, a gentle advocate for justice and peace, an innovative creator of unconventional, mythic, and captivating tales. The very structure of her affecting memoir involves broad margins as Kingston channels musings and memories into one long, streaming poem. Some may quail at the prospect of a narrative-in-verse, but Kingston’s language is so natural, lucid, and subtly rhythmic, reading it is as effortless as breathing. Revered for the candor of her groundbreaking creative nonfiction, beginning with The Woman Warrior (1976), and her playful and profound fiction, Kingston gracefully entwines both genres as she reflects on turning 65, shares piquant stories of family, and catches up with her characters, especially Wittman Ah Sung, who first appeared in Tripmaster Monkey (1989). Kingston’s descriptions of the timeless beauty and evolving struggle of village life in China are mystical and incisive, while wry humor shapes her account of being arrested during a 2003 peace demonstration at the White House. Looking back to her California childhood as the daughter of immigrants, Kingston remembers wanting to ask others, “How do you feel being you?” That is the writer’s great question, and the wellspring of Kingston’s artistry and deep compassion. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727019X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270191
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,210,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meanders December 5, 2011
By Dusty
Format:Hardcover
Several years ago, Maxine Hong Kingston's previous biographical book with an attached fictional chapter, The Fifth Book of Peace was my favorite of the year and I suggested it to everyone I met. The book, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, is nearly a follow up work about what happens next as she continues her life journey. It meanders like a large river covering any range of topics giving little gems of subtle ways of thinking about a thing in a new way. It moves fluidly through time with discussions of multiple generations in her family with the central theme about her own upcoming 65th birthday.

One of the charms about the book is the feel of poetry, from the staccato sentence structure, abrupt turn of direction, and the choice to use whatever language best conveys the completion of the thought. It's next to impossible to imagine what's going to happen next and relaxing that part of your brain to just follow the story is a peaceful way to take a break from the day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring memoir April 18, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hong Kingston's memoir is deeply inspiring. It shows how being an agent of change and being dedicated to creating a better world is a complex process. What I take away from her story is that peace is not a final state but a process; we have to enact peace in our communities in a collective effort. Her writing is brilliant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read April 12, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A reflective tome on her life. As a long time Hong Kingston admirer, I enjoyed getting to know her better as a person
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