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Winter 1995, Volume 12.1

Fiction

 

Maxine Hong Kinston

Genocide


Maxine Hong Kingston received her Bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962 and married Earll Kingston soon thereafter. They have one son. She taught school in California and Hawaii for a number of years after earning her Teaching Certificate in 1965. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii, a Distinguished Professor at Eastern Michigan University, and is currently on the faculty of the English Department at the University of California at Berkeley.
Kingston's first book, The Woman Warrior, won a number of prestigious awards: the general nonfiction award from the National Book Critics Circle in 1976; Mademoiselle Magazine Award, 1977; Anisfield-Wolf Race Relations Award, 1978. She was given the National Endowment for the Arts writing fellowship in 1980 and was named a Living Treasure of Hawaii the same year. Her second book, China Men was named to the American Library Association Notable Books List, 1980; American Book Award for general nonfiction, 1981; Stockton (California) Arts Commission Award, 1981. She also received the Hawaii Writers Award in 1983. Kingston's other works include Hawaii One Summer (1987) and the highly acclaimed Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1988), which won the PEN USA West Award in fiction. Her stories and articles have appeared in a number of periodicals, including The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Ms., New West, New Dawn, American Heritage, Mother Jones, and Washington Post.  Read an interview with Maxine Hong Kingston published in this edition of Weber Studies.

 

Editor's Note: Here is a "snippet"—perhaps the beginning of chapter two or three—from Maxine Hong Kingston's forthcoming book, The Fifth Book of Peace. Significantly, these paragraphs were written in community with the veterans during one of her veterans' workshops. They give a sense of the goals, direction, and tone of the book in progress. "They are in first draft, not rewritten at all," Kingston says in her note to me. "They are very rough and [may] not appear in the completed book. However, they are important pages because I make a clear statement of what I want to accomplish in The Fifth Book of Peace."

 

I am in terrible hurry. These long shocks through my body and arms, hands and feet is impatience. I extend my fingers out and out, and open my mouth, trying to discharge myself. I am feeling torture by electricity; the cattle prods ramming mouths and genitals, wires around fingers, bedsprings that almost electrocute are reaching me from Tibet, Argentina, Guatemala, South Africa, Korea. I am jumping out of my here-and-now body into a future when all has been put right, and work is done. I want to say everything I know all at once. I am too slow. At this moment, we human beings are fighting 36 wars, which I can't keep up with, name, be informed about, let alone stop. During a long wait at the hub airport in Frankfurt, a British woman chose me to tell that she eye-witnessed "genocide" in Armenia. There were Turks—their name starts with a C or K—hunting out the Armenians amongst them, and "killing them in particularly horrible ways, sawing off heads, slitting pregnant women open. They're using weapons against the Geneva convention, cluster bombs, which enter the body, twirl through it, and come out the other side." She touched herself at the jugular vein, then made a corkscrewing motion across herself down to the hip. "Grandmothers held up babies to the helicopters. I feel guilty taking up a seat. Three babies could have sat in my lap." Or she said three babies did sit in her lap. Sometimes I can't get to the bottom of British subjunctives. Also, I can't take the terribleness, blank out, and have to force myself to listen and remember. She was a tall, big woman, and I was glad for her largeness; she had to be large as war is large to carry its story. Back in England, she will write a book about the genocide. She will go to Armenia again, now that "I know what to look for." Her name is Eileen Barker, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at the London School of Economics. Sociologists are working on systems for sorting and counting the war dead. Who counts how. The Clinton administration refuses to name the deaths in Rawanda "genocide." The U.N. says that the killing of 200,000-400,000 people, "widespread extermination of an ethnic group" is "genocide." I hope Eileen Barker will give us answers to why war and how to stop it, and by her very writing about it end genocide in Armenia.

Peace actions are not obvious to me anymore. During the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam war (which they call the American war), I believed that people would cease doing shameful things if we kept careful, loving watch on one another. "The whole world is watching." "The whole world is watching." The naïveté was that all we need do is watch on TV. What if we were to witness in person, millions of us standing silently in Rawanda, Bosnia, Chile, Haiti, Tibet. Witnessing is not enough. The last I heard of war in Armenia was that a long time ago it had propelled the Saroyans to the Salinas Valley. It continued until now without me aware of it. Each war is never over with. Now I know about this ongoing genocide; does war abate, or does this news of one more war weaken me?

 

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