- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 28, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679760636
- ISBN-13: 978-0679760634
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Fifth Book of Peace Paperback – September 28, 2004
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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
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Top customer reviews
The Fifth Book of Peace derives from Kingston's own view of war from a noncombatant and rather bistander perspective intertwines the issue of war and human suffering that come from thought and memory -- World War II, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the first Iraq War. Possibly, she is attempting to encourage thinking and awareness. It is the overtones of education that Kingston states are the purpose or reason for being, "Educate America. Teach everybody"(60). Although these are the words taken from her mother as she asks Kingston about her purpose in life, "What have you done to educate America? Have you finished educating the world yet? You go educate America?" (60)
The book is divided into three enormous chapters that can be considered three separate books. There is plenty of information within these chapters that change in tone, and may take some quiet reading time to discern which parts are fiction and which parts are autobiographical. The first chapter, Fire, is the introduction to The Fifth Book of Peace, and presents an inkling of where the book will proceed. There is much dialogue between the characters in the book, as well as dialects and ethnic references to describe the characters and people that helped Kingston write the book.
The book has quite a number of notable passages, and one particular passage may possibly sum up the book: "Peace begins in thought. Thoughts enworded go from mind to mind, and mind makes the world. Peace, illusive, abstract, negative Yin, dream, would take a long writing-out to make real. Its book has to be longer than war books -- longer than a bumper sticker, longer than a sound bite. As we read, neuropeptides in the brain grow longer, longer than in nonreaders. Though becomes body. Sudden fast change is a method of war. The logic of peace has to be spoken out at length" (54).
I recommend this book for the pure purpose of expanding your mind or to add another perspective to the meaning of war.
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. In the first and last sections, the writer, herself, is in the center as she searches for community and finds possibilities for peace by creating communities that go far beyond the bonds of family and geography.
Sometimes her writing was a little too descriptive for me. For example, a tree might be beautiful but a description of several paragraphs slowed down the action. But I did relate to her sense of loss regarding her manuscript. And I really did like the novel she finally wrote in which a fictional couple, running away from the Vietnam draft, move with their young son to Hawaii and form a community of war protestors, including Vietnam soldiers who are fleeing the war. It was a bit preposterous but it was a good story, well told and I particularly loved the Hawaii she described. The last section inspired me as a writer and I found I even started using one of her techniques called "walking meditation" to let myself discover some of my personal writing needs.
I find the theme of war and peace in the context of Vietnam a little outdated. So much has happened since then as our world has changed. And, in a way, she is still locked in the thinking of the 70s. The anti-war message is a good one even though I think she is a bit naïve. However, she certainly is doing her part in trying to make positive changes. She uses her gift of writing to do this. I applaud her for her efforts. She actually makes the concept of "peace" seem possible. That is a good thing.