How odd that Maxine Hong Kingston writes, on the subject of the crippling self-consciousness that left her silent in American schools as a child, and still remains, "A dumbness—a shame—still cracks my voice in two....It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out into the open...." On paper, she is anything but voiceless or timid. The first of the five essays here, "No Name Woman", is like a punch. And her aunt, name unknown, whose brutal story she turns over and over in her mind, is the tutelary spirit of this book, one suited to the rage that built up in Kingston's mind as a child every time she heard her parents say "Girls are maggots in the rice", "When fishing for treasures in the flood, be careful not to pull in girls", when they gave her brother parties and presents and never gave her anything. Not all the stories are bitter ones -- when the author's mother, Brave Orchid, attended medical school in China, her life was brightened by friendship with fellow students. Perhaps it was necessary, in order for that to happen, for these young women to have no family relationship. When Brave Orchid exerted her great strength within her family, duty and the necessity of custom led her to hurt her daughters, and to unintentionally hurt her sister Moon Orchid by trying to assert Moon Orchid's marriage rights. But in the final pages, voiceless Maxine at last shouts out what she wants to say to her mother, and begins to compose "songs for a barbarian reed pipe", in this language that is not the language of her family, but which she mastered supremely well -- this was her warrior training, learning to write. The world will hear these songs, and not forget them.