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The Fifth Book of Peace by Maxine Hong Kingston
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Sep 28, 2004 | ISBN 9780679760634

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  • Sep 28, 2004 | ISBN 9780679760634

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“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

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston

Q: Your new book is called THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE. Tell us about that title, and about the books of peace that figure in Chinese mythology.

A long time ago in China, there were three Books of Peace, all lost, probably in library fires. At changes of regimes, the Chinese destroy the former culture. I searched all over the world for those three lost Books of Peace, and when I found no trace of them, I set to work writing one for our time. I’d been working for two years when the Oakland- Berkeley Hills fire destroyed my book, which I called The Fourth Book of Peace. To have that book of peace destroyed in a fire, like its ancestors, I thought I must have been on to something cosmic. I am so relieved that The Fifth Book of Peace is out of my hands and out of the house, untouched by fire. I do not want to have to write The Sixth Book of Peace . . .

Q: In the opening chapter you describe that devastating fire, as well as your father’s funeral. You write, "I was proud that no other loss but the community made me cry." What do you mean by that statement?

The older I get, the fewer tears I have for personal unhappiness. I wonder why. I seem to cry over public events, such as wars. Maybe they are tears of helplessness. As I stood there at the fire—father gone, house gone, book gone—my values seemed to re-arrange themselves. I learned that I care most deeply for the human community. It takes years of making connections one-to-one to create and evolve a harmonious, peaceful community.

Q: How did you begin to recover and return to writing?

My garret writing room had burned. I took that as a sign that perhaps I ought not to go on in the tradition of the solitary writer. I decided to gather a community of writers around me. I sent out a call for war veterans to come write with me; we would tell one another our stories.

Q: How does this book compare to the book you had been writing before the fire?

: The book before the fire was fiction, the story of Wittman Ah Sing finding a decent way to live during the war in Viet Nam. Evading the draft, he takes his wife and son to Hawai’i, which gets him closer to Viet Nam. When this writing was burned in the fire, I lost the desire to write fiction. I could not care for make-believe characters anymore. So I spent the next few years expressing my own feelings and thoughts, and writing about real people. Among my community of writer veterans, that Hawai’i story came back to me.

Q: Two of your brothers were in the Viet Nam war. How has that affected your role in the peace movement?

At our current peace demonstrations, I see parents and spouses of troops calling for peace. Relatives of victims of people killed on Sept. 11, 2001 carry the banner, "Our grief is not a cause for war." In San Francisco, I saw a soldier in an army jacket shout his thanks to the peace demonstrators, "Thank you for doing this. We don’t want to be in Iraq either." I wholeheartedly support our troops—that they neither kill nor be killed, that they come safely home. That they not be sent off and put in harm’s way in the first place.

Q: Discussing the U.S. as a multicultural nation, you write, "Every time we go to war, we go into schizophrenic agony. Whoever the enemy is, they’re related to us." Tell us how this principle complicates arguments for war or peace.

Everybody is both friend and enemy. Nobody is purely "evil." To bomb a place and a population is a simplistic solution to problems—just obliterate everything quickly and get on with it. To have peace, we need to work over long periods of time, see one another’s points of view, endure complications, know cultures and histories.

Q: What did you discover about the process of building peace as you wrote this book? What surprised you?

I was surprised to discover how much one small person such as myself can do—and how happy I was. I am coming up with a new rule for living: Only do things that make you happy, and you will create the peaceful world.

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