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Tripmaster Monkey


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About the Author

Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who operated a gambling house in the 1940s, when Maxine was born, and then a laundry where Kingston and her brothers and sisters toiled long hours. Kingston graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley, and, in the same year, married actor Earll Kingston, whom she had met in an English course. The couple has one son, Joseph, who was born in 1963. They were active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but in 1967 the Kingstons headed for Japan to escape the increasing violence and drugs of the antiwar movement. They settled instead in Hawai'i, where Kingston took various teaching posts. They returned to California seventeen years later, and Kingston resumed teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

While in Hawai'i, Kingston wrote her first two books. The Woman Warrior, her first book, was published in 1976 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, making her a literary celebrity at age thirty-six. Her second book, China Men, earned the National Book Award. Still today, both books are widely taught in literature and other classes. Kingston has earned additional awards, including the PEN West Award for Fiction for Tripmaster Monkey, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President Clinton, as well as the title "Living Treasure of Hawai'i" bestowed by a Honolulu Buddhist church. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawai'i One Summer, and latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.


The long-awaited novel by the author of the award-winning China Men and The Woman Warrior is outrageously clever, surrealistically imaginative, mordantly witty and funny--in spots. It is also densely overwritten, tedious and fatally mired in a literary device: at intervals, the narrative comes to a halt when the hero, Wittman Ah Sing (his name itself a pun), narrates the plot of his play-in-progress, a swashbuckling fantasy featuring a huge cast of characters headed by Wittman's alter ego, the legendary Monkey King, ``master of change,'' and including 108 bandits who battle their enemies in a free-for-all. Hyperkinetic, hypersensitive and hyperverbal, Wittman is a sporadically engaging character; a fifth generation Californian, Berkeley graduate and self-styled beatnik, he feels alien to both his Chinese heritage and the American culture that stereotypes him and others of his race. Kingston displays her considerable talents in some scenes that stand on their own as literary gems. But while much of the book is propelled by a bitter comic vision, many passages bog down in literary allusions, Wittman's often jejune introspection and the seemingly interminable scenes wherein the Monkey King holds center stage. (April)

After graduating from Berkeley in English literature, Wittman Ah Sing searches for his niche in the Bay Area of the 1960s. He is a typical product of this time--pot-smoking, free-loving, draft-dodging, unemployed, anti-big business, long-haired, and sandal-shod. But he is also a Chinese-American fighting Chinese stereotypes--and therein lies the book's strength. Unfortunately, the book's great weakness is Wittman Ah Sing himself--a hippie stereotype difficult to feel for because he does not seem real, certainly less real than some of the characters surrounding him. This first novel by the author of The Woman Warrior is thus not entirely successful, but Kingston's wide popularity makes it an essential purchase for most libraries.-- Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Coll., Garden City, N.Y.

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