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Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth    by Hilary Spurling Amazon.com order for
Pearl Buck in China
by Hilary Spurling
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Simon & Schuster, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth, Hilary Spurling leads readers through Pearl Buck's life (18921973). She shows the famed author's beginnings as Pearl Sydenstricker, the fifth (of seven, four of whom died) children of missionary parents in China, through her marriage there, and eventual return to the United States, where she became a renowned public figure. Though the book is a fascinating biography of a great writer, it also opens a window on China as it went through the major upheavals that led to the formation of the superpower it is now.

Pearl grew up 'more Chinese than American', spending her days interacting with Chinese families and speaking their language fluently. Her nurse, Wang Amah, 'had an inexhaustible fund of tales of demons and spirits that lived in clouds, rocks, and trees, sea dragons, storm dragons, and the captive local dragon pinned underneath the pagoda on the far hill, who lay in wait for a chance to squirm free, swamp the river, and drown the whole valley.' Her mother Caroline had a hard life but told tales of 'the enchanted idyll' of her West Virginia childhood. Her driven father Absalom spent most of his time on the road, seeking converts. Pearl was tutored by a Confucian scholar, whose warning that 'there would be wars and more wars' soon became reality.

Spurling tells us that 'Buck is virtually forgotten today' despite the fact that 'The Good Earth transformed the West's understanding of China'; that she was 'the first of only two American women ever to receive the Nobel Prize for literature'; and that, after returning to the U.S., she campaigned for (at the time) unfashionable causes including 'women's rights, civil rights, black rights, the rights of disabled children and the abandoned children of mixed-race parents.' She also spoke strongly against the West's attempts to impose on China 'an exclusive, prohibitive, alien religion.'

Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth is a compelling, thoroughly researched account of a remarkable woman and of the context in which she wrote books that exerted an enormous influence in their day. If you have any interest in the writer, her works, or in the evolution of China as a nation, then don't miss this excellent biography.

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