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Pearl Buck in China

by: Hilary Spurling

New York NY: Simon & Schuster 2010, $27.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-1-4165-4042-7

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(1) page(s): 22 and 24

This book is about the lady on whom many of us cut our teeth on about China. Pearl Buck's books barely discuss food; likewise this volume about her. Instead, there is information about her books and where and how they fit into her life in China and her return to the United States.

Read about her life and marriage, and about China's history at the time her articles and books were written. This is a riveting biography of a female Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner. It brings to life the impact she had on Americans about a country they wished then they knew more about. Before Pearl Buck, little was written in English about China's ordinary people, its peasants. I certainly cut mine reading every one of her books two or more times. After reading Spurling's biography, am ready for another reading of all of Buck's books and the many articles and short stories that alluded me.

Pearl Buck wrote about the life of ordinary Chinese, something virtually unknown then. Because she did, Mao and his mob hated this blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter of a missionary father who was a religious fanatic. As a young American girl growing up in China, she was an oddity there. When she came back to the United States to get a college degree, she was an oddity here; likewise when she went back to what she considered her 'home.' She returned to the United States during violent turmoil, it was a time when Chinese attacked all foreigners. She returned to the United States then for her own safety, and to settle her mentally impaired daughter in a New Jersey institution.

When Pearl Buck published The Good Earth in 1931, that novel put her on the map for Nobel prize consideration because she bridged two cultures telling about the common people of China; she knew them intimately. Spurling’s book bridges reality and stereotype about this prolific writer whose eye and heart returned after college to the country she truly loved. After she left once again, it was the beloved country she later never had the opportunity to see again.

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