More than 30 years after her first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston offers readers another memoir, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, whose title is taken from Thoreau’s description of time for leisure, openness, and reflection. It’s a notion Kingston tries fervently to embrace as she reaches her 65th birthday. In this graceful meditation on aging, she writes in a stream-of-consciousness style, recording her thoughts as a single column of verse on each page. Here’s one example:
“I will have free time,’’ she vows. “I have never
had free time. I will have time to give away.
I regret always writing, writing. I gave
my kid the whole plastic bag of marshmallows
so I could have 20 minutes to write.’’
Her reflections are informed not by regret but acceptance. She seems at peace with the necessary sacrifices and negotiations she’s made as a writer, wife, and mother. Yet she’s also acutely aware of her mortality and determined to carve out the free time to which she feels entitled at last.
Read more here by Carmela Ciuraro…
“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. ~ Publishers Weekly
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