Top positive review
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`Do you know that Chinese is a very dangerous language for foreigners? '
on 24 May 2010
'One slip in tone and `Good morning' becomes `Let us go to bed together'.'
While this novel is constructed around the early life of Pearl S. Buck in China, she is only part of the unfolding story. The protagonist is a fictional Chinese girl named Willow, the only child of a destitute family living in Chin-kiang at the end of the 19th century. Pearl Sydenstricker was the elder daughter of zealous Christian missionaries from America stationed in China. Pearl and Willow become good friends, and this friendship is sustained through the disruption caused by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and Pearl's removal first to Shanghai and then to the USA for education.
Time moves on: both Willow and Pearl marry and live very different lives. The novel touches on Pearl's later life, but increasingly it becomes a story of Willow and a China in uproar - especially after the Nanking Incident in 1927. Pearl left China permanently in 1934, and was not allowed to return. China's 20th century history is woven into the novel and through Willow's eyes we experience the turmoil of the civil war, and the rise of Mao.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. I enjoyed the introduction to Pearl's early life and liked the character of Willow as a link to Pearl but also as a narrator of the changes in China. Pearl's role changed over the course of the novel: at the beginning she had a clear, vibrant role. By the end Pearl's influence, but not her presence was the defining force. But perhaps that is the key: this is a novel and those who want to know more about Pearl S.Buck will find other sources. Those who want to know more about `her' China need look no further than her novels.