Summary and book reviews of Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Pearl of China

A Novel

by Anchee Min

Pearl of China by Anchee Min
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 304 pages

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Book Summary

From the bestselling author of Red Azalea and Empress Orchid comes the powerful story of the friendship of a lifetime, based on the life of Pearl S. Buck.

In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the nineteenth century, two young girls bump heads and become thick as thieves. Willow is the only child of a destitute family, Pearl the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries. She will ultimately become the internationally renowned author Pearl S. Buck, but for now she is just a girl embarrassed by her blonde hair and enchanted by her new Chinese friend. The two embark on a friendship that will sustain both of them through one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history.

Moving out into the world together, the two enter the intellectual fray of the times, share love interests and survive early marriages gone bad. Their shared upbringing inspires Pearl's novels, which celebrate the life of the Chinese peasant and will eventually earn her both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize. But when a civil war erupts between the Nationalists and Communists, Pearl is forced to flee the country just ahead of angry mobs. Willow, despite close ties to Mao’s inner circle, is punished for loyalty to her 'cultural imperialist' friend. And yet, through love and loss, heartbreak and joy, exile and imprisonment, the two women remain intimately entwined.

In this ambitious new novel, Anchee Min brings to life a courageous and passionate woman who is now hailed in China as a modern heroine. Like nothing before it, Pearl of China tells the story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, from the perspective of the people she loved and of the land she called home.

Chapter 1

Before I was Willow, I was Weed. My grandmother, NaiNai, insisted that naming me Weed was better. She believed that the gods would have a hard time making my life go lower if I was already at the bottom. Papa disagreed. "Men want to marry flowers, not weeds." They argued and finally settled for Willow, which was considered "gentle enough to weep and tough enough to be made into farming tools." I always wondered what my mother would have thought if she had lived.

Papa lied to me about my mother's death. Both he and NaiNai told me that Mother died giving birth. But I had already learned otherwise from neighbors' gossip. Papa had "rented" his wife to the town's "Baresticks" in order to pay off his debts. One of the bachelors got Mother pregnant. I was four years old when it happened. To rid her of the "bastard seed," Papa bought magic root powder from an herbalist. Papa mixed the powder with tea and Mother drank it. Mother died along with the seed. It broke ...

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About this book
Willow never dreamed that her childhood friend would become a world-renowned writer. In the impoverished Chinese village of Chin-kiang, a young pickpocket meets her match in Pearl Sydenstricker, the daughter of the village's only white man, a Christian missionary named Absalom. Willow and her Papa befriend Pearl's family to get a hot meal, but eventually Papa and Absalom become partners in recruiting the villagers to join the church. Meanwhile, Willow and Pearl strike up a friendship that will last a lifetime.

As Willow and Pearl come of age, their lives diverge: Willow is forced to become a concubine, and Pearl leaves Chin-kiang to study in Shanghai and America. When ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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With 30 out of 35 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, Pearl of China is a top pick amongst BookBrowse readers! Here's what they have to say:

This book was a miracle of words. Anchee Min is a gifted writer whose skills bring the reader along on her journey. While the book may seem to focus on Pearl S. Buck, to me the real heroine was Willow Lee and her undying dedication to her friend (Martha L). At times, I found myself responding to the novel as if the events really happened. The words are beautiful, especially the poetry that is interspersed throughout the book (Trezeline B).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (724 words).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

"Min skillfully blends real historical figures... with fictional characters to authenticate the story's social and political context... [Pearl of China] pays worthy homage to Pearl Buck’s legacy."

Bookreporter.com

"[T]old with a haunting quality only Anchee Min can deliver... this rewarding read passes far too quickly."

Kirkus Reviews

A straightforward biography would have served better than this flat, hagiographic narrative.

Publishers Weekly

Though the setting and revolutionary backdrop are inherently dramatic, Min's account of an epic friendship is curiously low-key, with some sections reading more like a treatment than a narrative.

Booklist

Starred Review. Min’s fresh and penetrating interpretation of Pearl S. Buck’s extraordinary life delivers profound psychological, spiritual, and historical insights within an unforgettable cross-cultural story of a quest for veracity, compassion, and justice.

Reader Reviews

Judy

Read this book
This was a marvelous book. The book gives you a clear picture of a China's conversion to communism, painful and violent as it was. I loved this book.

Louise J

Compelling and Perhaps the next Classic!
Willow Yee lived in Chin-kiang, a small town far away from the city of Peking, on the south side of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu province. She lived there with her father and grandmother, Nai Nai. Her mother had died after her father rented her out...   Read More

Shannon R. (Sunburst, MT)

I felt like I was there
I love this novel!!! I felt that I was there in China with Pearl Buck growing up right along side her. This is writing at it's best! I loved the honesty that the author wrote with regarding life in China after the Boxer Rebellion and during the ...   Read More

Darlene M. (Rancho Mirage, CA)

PEARL OF CHINA
Pearl of China is literally a Jewel of a book. It brings new meaning to family, friendship, love and loss. A friendship that lasts a lifetime. My bookclub focused on Pearl Buck's The Good Earth and Sons last year and this will be a perfect book to ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (born June 26, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia) was an important and much lauded American writer, famous for her depictions of China and Chinese culture, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for the novel The Good Earth and the first Nobel Prize awarded to an American woman for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Pearl S. Buck She grew up in the town of Chenchiang, China and was raised by missionary parents until, at 15-years-old, she was sent to Shanghai to attend boarding school. She later enrolled at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia where she graduated with the class of 1914 with a bachelor's degree. After ...

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