Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review - Pearl Buck in China

My favorite genre of books are biographies, because they introduce me to remarkable people.  Before this book, the only thing I remembered about Pearl Buck was reading her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, when I was in high school.  I think many students of my generation did the same.  I didn't realize Buck lived most of her life in China, and as she puts it, thought in Chinese not American.  If you're interested in unique women and want to learn more about Chinese history and culture in the 20th century, then I would highly recommend this book to you. 

I'm grateful that the author placed a map in the front of the book (I love maps in books!)  There's a comprehensive index and the author's footnotes are unobtrusive, gathered at the end of the book.  I see now that all of Buck's fiction were taken from events in her life and from people she knew, which make for remarkable stories.  Spurling says she was drawn to Buck by "the first book I remember from my early childhood."  She writes in her foreword,
"I had no idea at the time who wrote the book [The Chinese Children Next Door] that meant so much to me.  Now I know that it is based on the life of Pearl's much older adopted sister, a Chinese girl abandoned by her own family and brought up as their own by Pearl's parents."
One question that came up in our book club was why Spurling wrote this book in the first place, when there was another comprehensive biography about Buck written 15 years earlier.  The author states outright,
“My book aims to look again at the early years that shaped Buck as a writer and gave her the magic power - possessed by all truly phenomenal bestselling authors - to tap directly into currents of memory and dream secreted deep within the popular imagination.” 
(page 10 - thanks, Linda, for having this at your fingertips) 

"Absalom and Carie with their three surviving children - 13 year old Edgar;
2 year old Pearl, and the new baby, Clyde - after their flight to Shanghai in 1895."

Pearl Sydenstricker was born in the United States in 1892, when the family was on furlough from China.  Her father was a missionary; a self-centered man whose religion was more important to him than his family.  Pearl's husband, John Lossing Buck, was another missionary too busy to pay much attention to his family.  But he seemed to me more compassionate than her father and paid attention to what the Chinese people needed.  Lossing was the founder of "Chinese Agricultural Economics" and taught at the University of Nanjing. 

"La Sadze (with her baby and absconding husband): the village woman
who saved the lives of the Buck family by hiding them in this hut in Nanjing in 1927."
Everyone in the book club agreed that Spurling accomplished just what she set out to do - write an in-depth account of Pearl's early years in China.  I felt the book faltered a bit, after Pearl's family came back to the United States just before World War II.  Probably the author wasn't as interested in her American life.  It seemed that she was unhappy in the States, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

(photographs copied from book)

7 comments:

Orangies Attic said...

OMIGOSH... this makes me so excited! The Good Earth is my all-time favorite book... read it for the first time in 7th grade and have re-read it at least twice since. Going to see if I can get this on my kindle right now! http://orangiesattic.blogspot.com/

Jenny said...

I definitely need to re-read this book. It has been so long since I read it in high school that I have totally forgotten about it. Thanks for a great review.

Splendid Little Stars said...

I loved The Good Earth! I've read it twice, but only as an adult. This biography sounds most interesting. I always love it when photos are included, too.

Erika said...

I don't remember The Good Earth, although it was required reading. I do find myself wanting to re-read those on my old book lists but where do I find the time?

I also love to read biographies. It is better to learn about people from an autobiography or biography, IMO--much better than those tv gossip shows!

Lulu Grey said...

Such a good book. I live about 10 minutes from her house in Doylestown, PA. It is so pretty.

OnePerfectDay said...

I don't know this author or The Good Earth, but her story is something I'd be interested in reading.
I love biographies too.

Splendid Little Stars said...

Based on your review, I got this book form the library and am reading it now!

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