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4.0 out of 5 stars21
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on 30 May 2010
I already knew that Pearl Buck was a real person before I read this book, The Good Earth is on my bookshelves although unread so far, but I knew nothing about her. This book has certainly whetted my appetite to go and search for it and read it sooner than I might otherwise have.

Despite the title though , the book is really about and narrated by her fictional best friend Willow Yee, who to my mind leads a far more interesting and volatile life than Pearl. The book provided interesting insights into the Cultural Revolution , Mao's betrayals and Madame Mao's character.

However I think the book was let down by the writing style, it told a story rather than showed it and the characterisations were thin. The excessive amount of references to Christianity and how every piece of good luck was God's work alienated me too and felt laboured.
A must-read I guess for any Pearl Buck/Anchee Min fan but otherwise perhaps a disappointment.
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'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.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 30 July 2011
I almost didn't buy the book as the reviews on here were quite negative, and I was very pleasantly surprised by it.

As I didn't know Pearl Buck, and very little about the Mao years, I found this book very interesting and well written.

The angle of the Christian missionary and how Willow's father adapts Christianity to make it more palatable for the Chinese is actually very funny and not boring at all. I especially liked the discussion about how "fat" Jesus should be depicted to look more like a local god.

The characters were very well described (I loved Absalom and the contrast to Willow's father - "my father is a crook, and your father is a nut") and believable.

Just thought I'd stick up for the author as I really enjoyed reading the book.
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VINE VOICEon 24 July 2013
I listened to the Audible version of this book and therefore did not have a cover to inform me that this was a biographical novel. It was not until I was about a third of the way through that the penny dropped and it gradually dawned on me that I was reading the life story of Pearl S.Buck.

Sadly, I have never read any of Ms Bucks writng, though there are three of her books lurking in my shelves. However, I had obiviously heard of her, and once I realised the significance of the characters, this novel took on a whole new meaning.

In an interview by KPBS, Anchee Min relates how she came to write this book about a character who had been considered persona non-grata by the Chinese authorities during her teens (1971). Ms Min was amazed to discover that Pearl Buck actually loved Chinese peasants and didn't hate the Chinese at all. Thus Anchee Min's appetitie was whetted and Pearl of China is the result.

It did, however, seem to be more about Pearl's (fictional?) friend, Willow, than about Pearl herself. Willow is from a poor family and is used in the novel to illustrate the lives of this strata of the population during the revolution that resulted in Mao's rise to power.

Pearl Buck was from a missionary family and the book covers the fall of the Christian Church under the leadership of overseas missionaries. Interestingly, this is correlated in the book I am currently reading, The Woman Who Lost China by Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang.
After Pearl left China in 1934 she was never again allowed to return, which distressed her greatly. America was an alien place to her, and she considered China to be her home.

My one complaint about the book was the emphasis on Pearl's friend Willow, otherwise an interesting listen.

Also read:
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (4 stars)
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on 28 January 2014
This was a book group choice and yet another third world one: not the sort of book I'd normally read. But I'm glad I did. The story is interesting, sensitive and well told. It's also very informative. Whether it's happy or not, I'm not sure. Hence, "bitter sweet". Similarly we're left wondering whether Pearl's two cultures, Chinese and American, really blend. On balance I think they do.

As for the religious aspect, Pearl's missionary father Absalom is obviously a man with both virtues and faults. He is not portrayed as some priestly paragon. But overall he comes across as a force for good: a lot better than Mao's communism.
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on 11 August 2013
'Pearl of China' gives you a insight into China before the revolution and into growing up under Mao. At the same time it is a
real account of Pearl Buck’s years in China; Buck lived 40 years in China and 40 years in the US and later became a writer acknowledged by the Nobel Prize. I learnt a lot about Buck, about China and about Christianity arriving in China. in the search for understanding China and the Chinese this is a good source. I read this book after finished Ming's book, The Cooked Seed and I am now reading The Good Earth by Buck, her most accomplished novel. What a feast...

I gave four stars and not five, because I feel the first and second parts of the novel are not fully balanced. We are running too quickly through the Mao years. But the book is about Pearl so there are reasons for this. One should read more of Ming and hopefully get the whole picture. I enjoyed her book so far tremendously.
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on 4 March 2012
This is a well written, easy to read book which introduced me to an author (Pearl Buck) I knew little about. Even though most of the characters are fictionalised, their emotions and reversals of fortune are beautifully described and prompt you to read on. Any book that awakens an interest and a desire to read further is worthy - I have been learning basic Chinese for a year and am grateful to Anchee Min for her simple books that allow an outsider such as me to share a little in the traditions and difficult history of China.
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on 20 April 2014
I was unaware when I purchased this book that the Pearl in question was a well-known literary figure with a fascinating back story.
This story is narrated through the eyes of a childhood friend and is full of unexpected twists and turns. The events described may not be entirely accurate - it is a work of fiction after all - but there is horror, pathos, humour and more to keep the reader gripped to the end.
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on 3 June 2015
It is not as good as Empress Orchid and The Last Empress, with these books I was captivated and I could imagine each scene perfectly. However I felt that it lacked something which I am unsure of, perhaps the descriptive language? I was not able to depict the characters or scenes as well. It was ok, but nothing beyond that, a bit underwhelmed.
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on 7 April 2012
Prompt delivery, the book was in very good condition. This was an excellent read and an absolutely fascinating storyline. I cannot recommend too highly. An amazing story, so sensitively written. I was totally absorbed from start to finish. After reading the book I then had to go on to read The Good Earth!
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