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Pearl of China

Pearl of China

3.5 42
by Anchee Min

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In the small southern China 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 is the headstrong daughter of Christian missionaries-and will grow up to become Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist. This unlikely pair becomes


In the small southern China 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 is the headstrong daughter of Christian missionaries-and will grow up to become Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist. This unlikely pair becomes lifelong friends, confiding their beliefs and dreams, experiencing love and motherhood, and eventually facing civil war and exile. Pearl of China brings new color to the remarkable life of Pearl S. Buck, illuminated by the sweep of history and an intimate, unforgettable friendship.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As a girl in Maoist China, Min (Red Azalea) was ordered to denounce Pearl S. Buck; now she offers a thin sketch of the Nobel laureate’s life from the point of view of fictional Willow Yee, a fiercely loyal friend. A lifelong friendship begins in Chin-kiang when Willow meets Pearl, whose missionary father converts Willow’s educated but impoverished father. Under threat from hostilities toward foreigners, Pearl departs for the safety of Shanghai, and, later, to America for college, but she returns for her wedding to find that Willow is the satisfied founder of a newspaper and a very unhappy wife. While a changing China swirls around them, their friendship is tested as they both fall in love with the same poet. As the 1949 revolution looms, Pearl flees China, and Willow’s husband becomes Mao’s right-hand man, leading to a fateful showdown with Madam Mao when Willow refuses to denounce her lifelong friend. 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. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Min (The Last Empress, 2007, etc.) offers an adoring fictional biography of Pearl S. Buck. Narrator Willow Yee grows up in Chin-Kiang at the turn of the century. She lives with her impoverished grandmother and father, a coolie and seasonal farmhand despite his education and literary aspirations. Portrayed with intriguing moral ambiguity, Mr. Yee is a conniver, his motives both self-serving and earnest as he brings converts to zealous missionary Absalom Sydenstricker, Pearl's father. As Pearl jokes, "My father is a nut and your father is a crook." Soon Willow and Pearl become inseparable. The early scenes of their childhood, before history gets in the way, are filled with natural lyricism and engaging drama. But once the Boxer Rebellion rears its head and Pearl moves on to missionary school in Shanghai, the novel loses steam. Min gives Willow the skeleton of a story: She is forced into marriage with an opium addict, escapes and becomes a newspaper editor in Nanking, marries a Communist Party member, is denounced and imprisoned, meets Nixon during his visit to Pearl's childhood home in Chin-Kiang. Willow's character isn't fleshed out; her only purpose seems to be to provide a secondhand, sketchy account of Pearl's life, some of it through dry letters. Pearl attends college in America but longs to return to China. She marries Lossing Buck, who wants to enact Chinese agrarian reform, but the marriage sours by the time their mentally retarded daughter is born. Pearl's love affair with the poet Hsu Chih-mo is depicted as the life-changing event in Pearl's creative life, although historians have only circumstantial proof the two were lovers. After Pearl returns to America in middle age, thenovel slogs on bloodlessly. A straightforward biography would have served better than this flat, hagiographic narrative.
From the Publisher

“[Anchee] Min, a prime example of an indomitable Chinese woman, has made it her mission to reveal the truth about the lives of women in China, including Madame Mao, Empress Tzu Hsi, and now Buck … Ardently detailed, dramatic, and encompassing, 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.” —Booklist, (starred review)

“In those moments, when human emotions transcend cultural and geographical borders, Min echoes Buck's talent for showing compassion and empathy toward her characters, and like her, reveals the power and dignity contained in the lives of ordinary people.” —Associated Press

Pearl of China is a loving tribute to Buck and a unique peek into the hearts and lives of the Chinese people who knew her. As with all of her books, Min -- like Buck before her -- exposes the cruel, isolating existence that China's rulers inflicted on much of the country's population during the different decades that the two women lived there. And both women showed the inspiring, courageous ways in which even the most besieged of the lowest classes maintained their wit and humanity.” —Oregonian

Pearl of China is worthy of reading simply because of the author's ambition of showing how literature can affect history as well as the psyche.” —Asian Review of Books

“A gifted and lyrical writer.” —Los Angeles Times

“Min's narrative is most fascinating as we watch her characters negotiate the conundrum that is Mao's China.” —City Pages

“A captivating read…Pearl of China is the story of two women's lives, but larger still, it is a history filled with insights into the common people of China lives. Although it is a work of fiction, it is wonderfully, historically accurate…I recommend Pearl of China as a great read for all.” —Des Moines Register

“Min's writing is poetic and immediate …infused with sensuous details and exacting dialogues.” —Sarah Bagby, Watermark Books

“In this excellent interpretation of Pearl's story from a Chinese perspective told with a haunting quality only Anchee Min can deliver, the bestselling author of Red Azalea and Empress Orchid again focuses her attention on influential women of her native China … this rewarding read passes far too quickly.” —Bookreporter.com

“Min skillfully blends real historical figures … with fictional characters to authenticate the story's social and political context … [Pearl of China] presents a welcome addition to Min's long list of strong female characters, and pays worthy homage to Pearl Buck's legacy.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“There is something absolutely delicious about stories where real people and places are mixed with fictional characters. That's the case in Anchee Min's novel Pearl of China…a lovely and engaging read.” —Costco Connection

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.56(w) x 6.36(h) x 1.03(d)

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Pearl of China

By Anchee Min

Bloomsbury USA

Copyright © 2010 Anchee Min
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-697-5

Chapter One

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 Papa's heart, because he had intended to kill the fetus, not his wife. He had no money to buy another wife. Papa was angry at the herbalist, but there was nothing he could do-he had been warned about the poison.

NaiNai feared that she would be punished by the gods for Mother's death. She believed that in her next life she would be a diseased bird and her son a limbless dog. NaiNai burned incense and begged the gods to reduce her sentence. When she ran out of money for incense, she stole. She took me to markets, temples, and graveyards. We would not act until darkness fell. NaiNai moved like an animal on all fours. She was in and out of bamboo groves and brick hallways, behind the hills and around ponds. Under the bright moonlight, NaiNai's long neck stretched. Her head seemed to become smaller. Her cheekbones sharpened. Her slanting eyes glowed as she scanned the temples. NaiNai appeared, disappeared, and reappeared like a ghost. But one night she stopped. In fact, she collapsed. I was aware that she had been ill. Tufts of hair had been falling from her head. There was a rotten smell to her breath. "Go and look for your father," she ordered. "Tell him that my end is near."

Papa was a handsome man in his thirties. He had what a fortuneteller would describe as "the look of an ancient king" or "the matching energy of sky and earth," meaning he had a square forehead and a broad chin. He had a pair of sheep eyes, a garlic-shaped nose that sat on his face like a gentle hill, and a mouth that was always ready to smile. His hair was thick and silky black. Every morning, he combed and braided it with water to make his queue smooth and shining. He walked with his back straight and head up. Speaking Mandarin with an Imperial accent, Papa wore his voice like a costume. But when Papa lost his temper, his voice would slip. People were shocked when Mr. Yee suddenly took up a strange voice. Ignoring NaiNai's opinion that his ambitions would never be realized, Papa dreamed that one day he would work for the governor as an adviser. Papa attended teahouses where he showed off his talent in classic Chinese poems and verse. "I must keep my mind sharp and literary skills tuned," he often said to me. One would never guess from the way he presented himself that Papa was a seasonal coolie.

We lived in Chin-kiang, a small town far away from the capital, Peking, on the south side of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu province. Originally, our family was from Anhui province, a harsh region where survival depended on an endless round of crushing physical labor. For generations my family worked the region's thin and unfertile soil and struggled with famine, flood, locusts, bandits, and debt seekers. NaiNai bragged that it was she who brought "luck" to the Yee family. She was purchased by my grandfather when he was forty years old. No one was allowed to mention that the purchase took place in a local sing-song house. When NaiNai was in her prime, she had a slender figure, a swanlike neck, and a pair of fox eyes with both ends tilted up. She painted her face every day and modeled her hairstyle after the Imperial empress. It was said that men's blood would boil when NaiNai smiled.

By the time the family crossed the Yangtze River and migrated to the south, NaiNai had given the Yee family three sons. Papa was the eldest and the only one sent to school. Grandfather expected a return from his investment. Papa was expected to become an accountant so that the family could fight the government's tax collectors. But things didn't turn out right-Grandfather lost his son to the education.

Papa believed that he was too good to work as a coolie. At sixteen, he developed the expensive habits and fantasies of the rich. He read books on China's political reform and chewed tea leaves to sweeten his peasant garlic breath. An ideal life, he told others, would be to "compose poems under blossoming plum trees," far away from the "greedy material world." Instead of returning home, Papa traveled the country, making his parents pay the bills. One day he received a message from his mother. The message informed him that his father and brothers were gravely ill and near death from an infectious disease that had swept through his hometown.

Papa rushed home, but the funeral was already over. Soon enough, his house was possessed by the debt seekers. NaiNai and Papa fell into poverty and became coolies. Although NaiNai vowed to regain their former prosperity, she was no longer healthy. By the time I was born, NaiNai suffered from an incurable intestinal disease.

Papa struggled to keep his "intellectual dignity." He continued to write poems. He even composed a piece titled "The Sweet Scent of Books" for my mother's funeral. Invoking a newfound spirituality, he insisted that his words would make better gifts than jewelry and diamonds to accompany his wife in her next life. Although Papa was no different from a beggar in terms of possessions, he made sure that he was lice-free. He kept his appearance by trimming his beard and never missed a chance to mention his "honorable past."

Papa's honorable past didn't mean anything to me. For the first years of my young life, food was the only thing on my mind. I would wake hungry every morning and go to sleep hungry every night. Sometimes the clawing in my stomach would keep me from sleeping. Having to constantly scavenge for scraps, I existed in a delirium. Unexpected luck or a good harvest might bring food for a while, but the hunger would always return.

By the time I was seven, in 1897, things had only gotten worse. Although NaiNai's health had continued to deteriorate, she was determined to do something to better our lot. Picking up her old profession, she began to receive men in the back of our bungalow. When I was given a fistful of roasted soybeans, I understood that it was time to disappear. I ran through the rice paddies and the cotton fields into the hills and hid in the bamboo groves. I cried because I couldn't bear the thought of losing NaiNai the same way I had lost Mother.

Around this time, Papa and I worked as seasonal farmhands. He planted rice, wheat, and cotton and carried manure. My job was to plant soybeans along the edges of the fields. Each day, Papa and I woke before dawn to go to work. As a child, I was paid less than an adult, but I was glad to be earning money. I had to compete with other children, especially boys. I always proved that I was faster than the boys when it came to planting soybeans. I used a chopstick to poke a hole and threw a soybean into each one. I kicked dirt into the hole and sealed it with my big toe.

The coolie market where we got our jobs closed after the planting season was over. Papa and I couldn't find any work. Papa spent his days walking the streets in search of a job. No one hired him, although he was received politely. I followed Papa throughout the town. When I found him wandering into the surrounding hills, I started doubting his seriousness about finding a job.

"What a glorious view!" Papa marveled as he beheld the countryside spreading below his feet. "Willow, come and admire the beauty of nature!"

I looked. The wide Yangtze flowed freely and leaped aside into small canals and streams that fed the southern land.

"Beyond the valleys are hidden old temples that have stood for hundreds of years." Papa's voice rose again. "We live in the best place under the sun!"

I shook my head and told him that the demon in my stomach had eaten away my good sense.

Papa shook his head. "What did I teach you?"

I rolled back my eyes and recited, "Virtue will sustain and prevail."

Virtue finally failed to sustain Papa. The demons in his stomach took over-he was caught stealing. Neighbors no longer wanted to be associated with him. The pity was that Papa never actually succeeded as a thief. He was too clumsy. More than once I witnessed him being beaten by the folks he stole from. He was thrown into the open sewage. He told his friends that he had "tripped over a tree stump." Laughing, they asked him, "Was it the same stump you tripped over the last time?" One day Papa came home holding his arm, which had been knocked out of its socket. "I deserved it," he said, cursing himself. "I shouldn't have stolen from an infant's mouth."

By the time I was eight years old I was already a seasoned thief. I began by stealing incense for NaiNai. Although Papa criticized me, he knew that the family would starve if I stopped. Papa would sell the goods I stole.

I snatched small items at first, such as vegetables, fruit, birds, and puppies. Then I went for farming tools. After selling what I stole, Papa would rush to a local bar for rice wine. He took his sips slowly, closing his eyes as if concentrating on the taste. When his cheeks began to redden, he would recite his favorite poem. Although his friends had long since left him, he imagined his audience.

The Grand Yangtze River runs toward the ocean, Never to return, so went the dynasty's glorious days. When would the time come again for heroes? Though music continues playing, swiftly and triumphantly, Reform miscarried, reformers beheaded, Foreign troops plagued the country His Majesty locked in the island of Yintai. Where have been the gods' responses? Weep the learned man, Brokenhearted and in despair ...

One day a man clapped. He was sitting in a corner. He stood up to congratulate Papa. He was tall, a giant in the eyes of the Chinese. He was the brown-haired and blue-eyed foreigner, an American missionary. He was by himself with a thick book and a cup of tea in front of him. He smiled at Papa and praised him for his fine poem.

Absalom Sydenstricker was his name. The locals called him the "plow-nosed and demon-eyed crazy foreigner." He had been a fixture in town for as long as I could remember. Not only was he ceiling tall, he also had hair growing on his forearms and the backs of his hands like weeds. All year long Absalom wore a gray Chinese gown. A queue went down his back, which everyone knew was fake. His costume made him look ridiculous, but he didn't seem to care. Absalom spent his time chasing people on the street. He tried to stop them and talk to them. He wanted to make us believe in his God. As children, we were taught to avoid him. We were not allowed to say things that would hurt his feelings, such as "Go away."

Papa was familiar with Absalom Sydenstricker since he, too, spent time wandering the streets. Papa concluded that Absalom was laying up credit for himself so that his God would offer him a ticket to heaven when he died.

"Or else why leave his own home to wander among strangers?" Papa questioned.

Papa suspected that Absalom was a criminal in his own land. Out of curiosity that day, Papa listened to what the foreigner had to say. Afterward, he invited Absalom home for "further discussion."

Thrilled, Absalom came. He didn't mind our dirty hut. He sat down and opened his book. "Would you like a story from the Bible?" he offered.

Papa was not interested in stories. He wanted to know what kind of god Jesus was. "Based on the way he was tortured, stabbed to death, nailed and tied to posts, he must be a royal criminal. In China such elaborate public torture would be given only to criminals of high status, like the former Imperial prime minister Su Shun."

Excitement filled Absalom's voice. He began to explain. But his Chinese was dif cult to understand.

Papa lost his patience. When Absalom paused, Papa interrupted. "How can Jesus protect others when he couldn't even protect himself?"

Absalom waved his hands, pointed his fingers up and down, and then read from the Bible.

Papa decided that it was time to help the foreigner. "Chinese gods make better sense," he said. "They are more worshipper-friendly ..."

"No, no, no." Absalom shook his head like a merchant's drummer. "You are not understanding me ..."

"Listen, foreigner, my suggestions might help you. Put clothes on Jesus and give him a weapon. Look at our god of war, Guan-gong. He wears a general's robe made of heavy metal, and he carries a powerful sword."

"You are a clever man," Absalom told Papa, "but your biggest mistake is that you are knowledgeable of all gods but the true God."

I observed that Absalom's face was a big opium bed with a high nose sitting like a table in the middle. His eyebrows were two bird's nests and under them were clear blue eyes. After his talk with Papa he went back into the streets. I followed him.

"God is your best fortune!" Absalom sang to the people who paused in front of him. No one paid attention. People tied their shoelaces, wiped snot off their children's faces, and moved on. Absalom stuck his long arms out like two brooms in the air. When he saw Papa again, he smiled. Papa smiled back. It took Papa quite a while to figure out what Absalom was trying to say.

"We have shed blood unlawfully," Absalom said, waving the Bible in Papa's face. "It may be innocently, but the stain remains upon us. Mankind can only remove it by prayers and good deeds."

I discovered where Absalom lived. His house was a bungalow located in the lower part of town. His neighbors were coolies and peasants. I wondered what had made Absalom choose the place. Although Chin-kiang was the smallest town in Jiangsu province, it had been an important port since ancient times. From the water's edge, stone-paved streets led to shops and then the center of the town, where the British Embassy was located. The embassy occupied the highest point, with a broad view of the Yangtze River.

Although he was not the first American missionary to come to China, Absalom claimed he was the first to arrive in Chin-kiang during the late nineteenth century. According to old folks, soon after Absalom arrived, he purchased a piece of land behind the graveyard, where he built a church. His intention was to avoid "disturbing the living," but to the Chinese, disturbing the dead was the worst crime one could commit. The church's tall shadow stretched out over the graveyard. The locals protested. Absalom had to abandon the church. He moved down the hill and rented a shop as his new church. It was a room with a low ceiling, crooked beams, falling studs, and broken windows.

Most of the people thought Absalom a harmless fool. Children loved to follow him around. His feet were the main attraction, because they were huge. When Absalom asked the local shoemaker for a pair of Chinese shoes, it became news. People visited the shop just to see how much material it would take and if the shoemaker would double the charge.

When asked his reason for coming to China, Absalom replied that he was here to save our souls.

People laughed. "What is a soul?"

Absalom let us know that the world was coming to an end, and that we would all die if we failed to follow God.

"What evidence do you have?" Papa asked.

"That is what the Bible is for." Absalom winked an eye and smiled. "The Lord explains the one and only truth."

Papa said that he was rather disappointed by Absalom's description of the Western hell. Chinese hell was much more terrifying. Papa loved to challenge Absalom in teahouses and bars. He reveled in the gathering crowd and his growing popularity. Behind Absalom's back, Papa admitted that he followed Absalom around for the food, especially the cookies baked by Absalom's wife, Carie.


Excerpted from Pearl of China by Anchee Min Copyright © 2010 by Anchee Min. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Meet the Author

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She moved to the United States in 1984. Her memoir, Red Azalea, was an international bestseller, published in twenty countries.

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Pearl of China 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Reader_Rabbit More than 1 year ago
What I enjoyed the most about this book was the picture of China during different political climates that the author portrays. So often in historical fiction the reader either must possess a great deal of background knowledge, or the flow of the story is impeded by the author providing that background. In Pearl of China the author is able to artfully weave the events and political climate into the story. This made it a good read even if, like me, you are unfamiliar with Buck's novels or modern Chinese history. Although Buck's parents were missionaries I did find the Christian postalizing in this story too strong. The beginning of the story, particularly when the main characters were children, didn't hook me. It took me until later in the book to really begin to enjoy it. The rest of the book made up for these issues, however. And as the mark of any really successful historical fiction, it inspired an interest for me to learn more about the subject.
dboltchi More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Pearl S. Buck fan. I loved how Min took a few of Pearl S. Bucks actual friends from China and turned them into one person. One person who followed her throughout her whole life. The story was insightful, funny, and easy to follow. The characters were real and interesting. It made me feel like I was actually in the village. It really gives you an insight into why Pearl S. Buck was so drawn to China and why she choose to write so many books based on it. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking a good read!
pjpick More than 1 year ago
Although one might assume this book is a fictional account of Pearl S. Buck's relationships with China and a childhood friend, it is so much more. The character of Pearl is secondary to the author's main character which is the culture and life in China from the late 1890s to the mid 1970s. Min paints a lavish portrait of Chinese life in turn of the century China, it's people, customs, and political trials. Fans of Buck may pick up this book hoping to get in touch with Pearl but Anchee Min has honored Pearl by allowing the reader to get to know Pearl's China instead, and lets the reader in fall in love with China's people. Min's writing is simple yet elegant; descriptive but not overly so. Most of all, she pulls you into the story making it difficult for you to leave. I look forward to reading more of Min's works in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Anchee Min's books. All= excellent. I almost never read books written by women( yeah, I know=chauvanist) However, I ALWAYS look forward to the next novel by this writer. Her character development is excellent, story line is interesting. Made me go buy the "original" book= THE GOOD EARTH. Such a pleasure, so much feeling and provides a better understanding about Chinese culture( you guessed it: I am not Asian). Enjoy.
Avid-readerCF More than 1 year ago
This is a must-read for readers interested in the China of the Pearl Buck era. For those readers who enjoyed Anchee Min's earlier books, you will enjoy the further insight into China and its people. For readers to whom Anchee Min is unknown, well it is time to discover a writer of enormous talent who entertains while providing the reader with much knowledge about the periods in Chinese history covered by her books. The story itself is very well written, but that is not much of a surprize for those who have read Anchee Min's earlier books. Immensely enjoyable read!
gl More than 1 year ago
I was very excited at the chance to review Anchee Min's Pearl of China. I have an uncle who would carefully select books for me. When I was in fifth grade, he introduced me to Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. The Good Earth was the first grown up book that I read; the story was so absorbing and sad that it stayed with me for a long time. It was The Good Earth that sparked my interest in China. In Pearl of China, Anchee Min introduces Pearl S. Buck at a young age. We meet Pearl as a young girl as she befriends Willow, a young Chinese girl. Pearl Sydenstricker is the daughter of American missionaries stationed in Chin-kiang, a small town south of the Yangtze River. The villagers are not interested in converting but they're drawn to the Sydenstrickers because of the food, medicine and music that they offer. Pearl and Willow's friendship gets off on a rocky start but they quickly become inseparable. Curious, active, and high spirited girls, Pearl and Willow get into all sorts of adventures. They lived under the Qing Dynasty and survived the Boxer Rebellion in relative innocence until the Sydenstrickers were forced to retreat to Shanghai. After this separation and by the time that they're 14, Pearl and Willow's lives take very different directions. Pearl is in a missionary middle school in Shanghai while Willow is engaged to a wealthy older man. Though the friends live very different lives, they make a point of seeing each other and remain very close friends. This friendship continues even after Pearl moves to the United States for college. When Pearl and her husband return to China years later, Pearl confides the details of her life to Willow. Willow shares her own life's disappointments and the women continue to find strength in their friendship - even years later when Pearl is forced to leave China and their letters are censored. Violence explodes in China and the country undergoes momentous changes from the Japanese occupation to Nationalist control to the eventual victory of Mao and the Communist Party. Like everyone around them, Pearl and Willow find their lives changed. Pearl moves to the United States and she is recognized worldwide for her writing with the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Willow's husband becomes one of Mao's trusted advisers but as her friendship remains a source of strength it also becomes a political liability for Willow. Pearl of China is as much a story of loyalty and friendship in historic times as it is the story of Pearl S. Buck as a woman of China and a dedicated and gifted writer. I found Pearl of China moving and inspiring - a glimpse into the life of one of the most interesting people of the 20th century. ISBN-10: 1596916974 - Hardcover Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 30, 2010), 288 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not finish this. Not to my liking which saddened me because I was looking forward to knowing about Pearl S. Buck
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Could just as well used the actress who with her sister were daughters of a missionary or the wilder daughters. You could say this book is true fiction just set in an exotic setting. Historical? No.
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TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
"It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary." The "Pearl" referenced in that blurb is Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth and numerous other novels. The story follows the lives of Willow and Pearl. This includes their marriages to horrible men, Willow's imprisonment over refusing to denounce Pearl's work, and Pearl's rise as a writer. Some of the novel is based on fact, but the friendship itself is total fiction, which I was disappointed to learn. The historical bits about Mao's Red Revolution and particularly the bits about his wife, were fascinating but not fleshed out. There were numerous gaps in the storyline. In real life, Pearl was a visionary. Highly revered for her humanitarian efforts yet in the story, her life almost took a backseat to Willow's. Min was forced to denounce Buck's work so perhaps this book was her way of paying homage to the writer. I'm not sure she succeeded, but what she did do was make me want to read The Good Earth. In additional to the gaps in storyline, the writing itself is a classic example of "telling" and not "showing." Min tells you all about these horrible marriages yet she shares nothing about them. I never get a feel for the situation that these women are in. Even the imprisonment, which I'm sure would have been a harrowing experience for anyone, is glossed over with just a few sentences telling us how horrible it was. Pearl of China was my book club's pick for July. What could have been a fabulous read, ended up being a thin outline of historical facts with a underdeveloped story thrown in for good measure. I can't recommend this book, although it did provide quite a bit for us to discuss at our meeting.
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