From 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.)
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*Starred Review* Pearl S. Buck, who grew up in China and became the first American woman writer to win the Nobel Prize, wrote that Chinese women “are the strongest women in the world.” 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. Pearl first appears as a bright, inquisitive girl who conceals her blond, curly hair beneath a black knit cap to be less conspicuous in the Chinese town of Chin-kiang, where she lives with her courageous American missionary parents. We get to know Pearl through her best friend, Willow—impoverished, smart, plucky, and Chinese—as they share mischievous and harrowing adventures, a disastrous mutual love for the famous poet Hsu Chih-mo, and a string of tragedies yoked to the paradoxes and horrors of the Boxer Rebellion, China’s civil war, and Mao’s catastrophic rule. Exiled and heartbroken, Pearl achieves world renown by writing about China, while journalist Willow is brutally punished for remaining loyal to her “imperialist” friend. 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. --Donna Seaman