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Pearl of China: A Novel Hardcover – March 30, 2010
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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
Top customer reviews
The story takes us through their childhood through Mao's terrifying reign even though Pearl was not in China in those times. It takes us on a journey on what happened to people who defended Pearl in those times. I have no idea if that part is true. The parts about Madam Mao horrified me. For those who think women would rule in a more gentle, empathetic manner with less war, I want to point out Madam Mao, Catherine the Great, Eva Peron and Imelda Marcos. Shudder.
It is unfortunate that the writing is not better in this. It tends to be choppy and flits around a great deal. It also doesn't have much, if anything, about Pearl after she leaves China about halfway through the book.
This piece of historical fiction supposedly "brings new color to the remarkable life of Pearl S. Buck, illuminated by the sweep of history and an intimate, unforgettable friendship". But that was NOT the case. There was a sweep of history that was revealed through Pearl's "friend" Willow but the friendship was a mere contrivance to provide this sweep of history.
There was little in-depth revelation of Pearl S Buck; she was a mere character to frame Willow's story against. The author obviously has an insight into the history of Mao's China but I was looking for Pearl to come to life, and for me this didn't happen.
The history itself was choppy with some parts, for example the Boxer Rebellion or the Japanese invasion, given little depth while the evils of Mao and Communist China consumed so much of the storyline. There were a few moments of WTF with characters that refused to die ... the author subjected them to labour camps, deprivation, torture, poverty and extreme old age and they just lived on, and on.