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The Fifth Book of Peace Hardcover – 16 Oct 2003

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'One of the great American chroniclers of her people and time' -- Independent --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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'One of the great American chroniclers of her people and time' Independent (2003-12-08) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Compelling meditation on Earth, Paper, Fire, and Water 30 Oct. 2003
By Peggy Vincent - Published on
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.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Boy, Do I Feel Guilty Giving This Book Less than 5 Stars 19 Dec. 2003
By matthewslaughter - Published on
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." The problem is that writing about peace (which must be necessarily undramatic once achieved) is extremely difficult to do, and Kingston does not quite pull it off. Reading Kingston's descriptions of other peoples writings about their war experiences becomes so convoluted that the impact of what she did with these writing groups becomes lost on the reader. Nevertheless, "The Fifth Book of Peace" is a reminder of how awesome a responsibility the achievement of peace truly is.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
She's Done It Again 13 Oct. 2003
By Lawrence R. Smith - Published on
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
An epic work to spead the word of peace in the world 12 Jun. 2004
By Linda Linguvic - Published on
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. 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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
poetic and meditative writing 14 Jan. 2005
By madhu m - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"If a woman is going to write a Book of Peace, it is given her to know devastation". Thus begins Maxine Hong Kinston's meditative part autobiography, part fiction, part lost spiritual text. This is a deeply poetic book that is framed by an incident of fire that led to many losses of lives and property, including the author's house and most of the material of her work-in-progress novel, "the fourth book of peace". After the fire, she decided to write anew about peace. From a different perspective. Kingston whose "woman warrior" stands as a great source of spiritual strength for many narrates the personal voyages she undertook through the course of this book, and peppers them with her quiet strength and wisdom. Towards the end, she concludes, "I am coming up with a new rule for living: Only do things that make you happy, and you will create a peaceful world."
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