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Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416540423
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416540427
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Eric Wilson on June 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
How many average American readers know that Pearl Buck won a Pulitzer Prize, or that she was the first American woman awarded a Nobel Prize for literature? How many realize she was read by Gandhi, Matisse, and Eleanor Roosevelt? In fact, how many even know of her at all? "The Good Earth" remains one of my all-time favorite novels, and Olan stands out as one of my favorite female characters in fiction. My own travels in China only enhanced my enjoyment of the book, and my experience as a child raised in multiple cultures gives me empathy for Ms. Buck's own upbringing as an American-born child raised in China as the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. Imagine my excitement to see a modern biography of this fascinating woman.

"Pearl Buck in China" gives a detailed and well-researched view into her upbringing, her struggles, and her influence as a novelist. Despite the slow first two chapters, much of which are devoted to her father's missionary zeal at the expense of his family, as well as his misogyny in the name of God, the book dives deeply into the psyche of young Pearl. By the age of ten, she had decided to be a novelist, finding escape in fiction from her parents' unrest, and enjoying connection with the Western world--particularly through Dickens' novels--which was still foreign to her. As we discover, she knew the street vernacular of the average Chinese, and grew to love them as her own. This familiarity caused a strain on her religious beliefs when fellow Westerners treated the Chinese with condescension. Later, she found a husband with a more practical approach to his missionary work, teaching the locals agricultural skills.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Wooley in PSL VINE VOICE on June 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hilary Spurling is a wonderful writer. A Brit that writes about people few of us would follow like Matiisse, Paul Scott, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Therese Humbert. People listen, Spurling is very, very good, read her works. That brings us to her latest, PEARL BUCK IN CHINA: Journey to the Good Earth. This is a marvelous marvelous book. Spurling give us the whole story without editorializing but in great detail. This is an interesting story about a very interesting person, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winner. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Read This
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Tryon on July 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Decades from now, the biographer Hillary Spurling will surely rate as one of the best writers of our time. This latest effort adds to an excellent list of achievements and might be her most successful book, yet. Given her much lauded two-volume biography of Henri Matisse, that is saying a lot.

In this book, Spurling brings to life a writer I had not much cared for. In fact, I knew Pearl Buck only for her titles publishes in volumes of the Reader's Digest Condensed Books, which had pride of place on my parents' bookshelves. My mental appraisal of her was simply horrid: drab, old-fashioned, famous mostly for being exotic in her time. How's that for my ignorance? Pretty good. As a result, I have always passed on opportunities to read Buck's writing. It shocked me to see that Spurling had chosen to exert her considerable talents in the direction of Buck's life story -- a surprise that evaporated in the book's first engrossing paragraphs.

One of Spurling's great strengths as a biographer is that she requires characters to speak for themselves; they tell their own story. She quotes liberally from primary sources with the result that Buck and others define themselves and each other. These individuals existed independent of the biographer, as is not always clear when a biographer attempts to "read" lives instead of writing about them. Spurling wraps history in the impressions and responses of the story's characters, and yet the difference between the historicity of events and people's recollections is plain. Recollections and impressions evolve, as she shows in the way Buck recasts autobiographical aspects throughout her works. When a biographer chooses this approach, the result can be a shapeless muddle of quotations and dates: not so here.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on February 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Raised in China by an over zealous missionary father and long suffering mother, Pearl Sydenstricker Buck had an extraordinary childhood. Her loving mother, Carrie, saw to her education and her stern misogynist father, Absalom, made a difficult life more difficult for the everyone around him.

At a young age Pearl saw extreme poverty, disaster and death in rural China. Pearl lost four siblings in ways that could be attributed to her family's living conditions. At times the family lived without running water or electricity (as Pearl did later with her husband in Nanxuzhou and as a refugee). She learned Chinese and English simultaneously, making her fully bilingual.

While most missionary children had sheltered lives in ex-pat communities with English language schools, Pearl spent her childhood with impoverished rural Chinese and at a very young age learned of their most intimate lives. Later, her husband's career in the study of Chinese agriculture connected her to China's academic/scientific communities and continued her connection with the rural poor. She worked these shared experiences with the Chinese people into thousands of pages of novels, speeches, articles and stories.

Hillary Spurling has produced a highly readable book, in many places it's a page turner. Its problem, from my point of view, is that the narrative has some holes and presents incohesive portraits of its subject, Pearl, and her father who is a determining influence on her life.

One narrative hole relates to finances. There is a big emphasis on the hand to mouth existence of the Sydenstrickers. Every penny Absalom can spare is going to his Bible translation or other projects.
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