Loretta F. (Fountain Inn, SC)
An Insightful Book About China and Its People
I have long been interested in China and Chinese culture, and so I selected "Pearl of China" to read and review. Although Min explains the ups and downs of China's political history very well, it is the human side of that history that outshines everything else. In her characters, we see the very best of human nature: friendship, love, loyalty, and kindness, contrasted with the very worst: greed, deceit, hatred, and brutality. I found Min's descriptions of Chairman Mao and Madame Mao to be especially interesting.
I would recommend this book to all readers, even if you're not interested in China or Pearl S. Buck, because it's a dramatic story filled with the human emotions that are the same across all cultures.
Gunta K. (Glens Falls, NY)
An indomitable spirit
(This review contains plot spoilers)
This book is a treat. Pearl was born in the last part of the eighteen hundreds to a missionary father and a long suffering mother. Her father treated her as a regular parishioner of his church, rather than a daughter. From early childhood on, Pearl and Willow, both living in same village, became inseparable friends. Pearl was used to accepting reality so Willow's destitute, full of thieves, family circumstances did not in any way impact the friendship. Pearl's curiosity about everything around her, combined with her intense blue eyes and cascading blonde hair made her stand out among the villagers. She wore a black knitted cap, every day, regardless of the weather, so she would fit in among the villagers. The two girls were each other's strength as well as sounding boards.
Time marched on. Japan penetrated into China and took Manchuria. The girls became teenagers ,then young adults. There was a great deal of political persecution everywhere in China. WIllow got a job as a type of underground journalist. Meantime, Pearl was putting her feelings, her observations, her soul on paper. She wrote dozens of short stories, political columns and novels. Finally Pearl had the opportunity to study at university in America. Of course Willow was left behind. They corresponded by letter. Their friendship endured, grew, became an unbreakable bond. Pearl was married and had a child, mentally challenged. Pearl dealt with this blow as she had dealt with all other adversity in her life. In 1932 Pearl won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Good Earth" and in 1938 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. There were many who very envious, in China and the USA, included a well known American author who was quoted as saying " if a woman can win the Nobel Prize for Literature, anyone can" . Pearl S. Buck wrote eighty books. She is still today read in a hundred countries, in their native language. Her favorite quote was of Madame Curie " the weak waits for opportunity, the strong one creates". Pearl S. Buck was denied an entrance visa by the Chinese government when President Nixon wanted her to accompany him on his visit to China. A few years later Pearl died, she was in her eighties. She is buried on her estate in Pennsylvania. Her grave is surrounded by trees, plants and flowers which she loved as part of her Chinese heritage. In her books Pearl depicts the life and strife of Chinese women of times gone by, yet true to history of China.
I highly recommend this book as it gives one a bird's eyes view of a great woman and a talented writer. A woman who never loved for herself. I also recommend one pick up a couple of Pearl's titles and lose themselves in a world we can not even imagine.
Kristen H. (Baltimore, MD)
Pearl of China
It is very difficult to write books putting actions and words into the mouths of actual historical figures. Few authors do it well. Pearl of China is an exception. Not only do the characters feel complete and real, but the author managed to transmit a feeling that it was a real memoir from a real woman who had actually known Pearl Buck. While Buck is certainly a pivotal character in the book, the real strength of the story is an exploration of the descent of China into Maoism and the persecution of dissenters. I did wonder, throughout, whether the narrator had been a real person, and how many of the actions and people she described were real - and whether this was more of a history couched in fiction than pure fiction. This uncertainty is the book's strength - although I wish that there were some note at the beginning or end to explain where fiction and history live in the story. Was there really a Willow? Not knowing much about Buck or China, I don't know. On the other hand, I am now inspired to find out - which may be the highest recommendation I can give.
Loren B. (Appleton, WI)
Insider's view of China
This novel was not only a fictional biography of Pearl Buck's life but the author's actual insider's view of China as it approached and went through the red revolution.
The characters were believable and the story interesting, but to me the best part was the fascinating "behind the scenes" look at the coming changes to China.
Cynthia B. (Puyallup, WA)
Pearl of China
“Pearl of China” offers a look at the life of Pearl S. Buck, the first woman to win the Noble Prize for Literature for her novels of China. Using Buck’s fictional Chinese friend, Willow Yee as the view point, we are offered a dramatic view of a turbulent time in China’s history. Anchee Min, in her youth, was forced to denounce Pearl Buck as an American imperialist and it wasn’t until she read Buck’s “The Good Earth” did she realize the love that Buck held for China. This novel then, is a search for redemption for Anchee Min – this is the setting in which I read the book, and as a result was more deeply affected by it. This is a very respectful and beautifully written tale about a marvelous woman and her beloved China. After reading “Pearl of China”, I immediately picked up and enjoyed my old copy of “The Good Earth”.
Catherine H. (Nashua, NH)
China is the Pearl
I thought I was going to read - in a fictional way - about Pearl Buck's life by reading "Pearl of China", but the main character in this book is rather China. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about Pearl Buck, the incredible woman, the writer. Pearl's lifelong friend Willow is the other incredible woman in this book, her strength, her courage.
However, I thought some parts of the book was like reading "Woman from Shangai".
A good read.
Trezeline B. (Columbia, MD)
Pearl of China
What a wonderful story! As a lover of Pearl S. Buck, I truly enjoyed the imagined story of her life. Anchee Min, the author, was made to renounce the writings of Pearl S. Buck because she grew up in China during Mao's Cultural Revolution. She was told that Buck's writings denounced China and her people. Later she was able to read The Good Earth and realized that the statement was not true and became fascinated by Pearl S. Buck and her stories of China. She began to imagine the experiences Buck must have had growing up in China that would inspire her to write as she did. Out of her imaginings grew this book.
The story is believable. At times, I found myself responding to it as if the events really happened. The words are beautiful, especially the poetry that is interspersed throughout the book. Pearl and her friendship with Willow Yee seemed very real to me as did all of the characters. Anchee Min developed the personalities of each character to make them very real and believable.
I highly recommend this book, especially anyone who has enjoyed the stories developed by Buck about the people of China.