From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Weaving a colorful tapestry of Pearl Buck's life (1892–1973) with strands of Chinese history and literature, Spurling, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize for Matisse the Master
—vividly correlates Buck's experiences of China's turbulent times to her novels. Growing up in a missionary family in China, Buck lived through the upheavals of the Boxer Rebellion and China's civil war, two marriages, and a daughter with a degenerative disease; her closeup view of the horrors of China's extreme rural poverty made her an American literary celebrity as well as a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize winner when she enshrined her observations of China in the Good Earth trilogy. Back in the United States, having opened America's eyes to China, Buck worked to repeal America's discriminatory laws against the Chinese and established an adoption agency for minority and mixed race children. For her support of racial equality, Buck was blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer even as her books were banned in Communist China for spreading reactionary, imperialist lies; Spurling's fast-paced and compassionate portrait of a writer who described the truth before her eyes without ideological bias, whose personal life was as tumultuous as the times she lived in, will grip readers who, unlike Spurling, didn't grow up reading Buck's work. (June)
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One of the challenges of writing about a great author, particularly one who has elegantly written about her own life, is deciding when to use one's own words and when to let the writer speak for herself. A similar challenge faces the reviewer, and critics reading Pearl Buck in China
mostly used their articles as occasions to celebrate the subject rather than the biography. Still, if reviewers were not effusive in their praise, they had few complaints about Spurling's book and clearly admired her thorough research and elegant prose. But as the New York Times
pointed out, "Ms. Spurling's book isn't a full-dress biography"; instead, it focuses mostly on Buck's formative years as a writer. For a more comprehensive biography, readers may wish to turn to Peter Conn's 1996 study, Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography