Pearl of China : a novel

by Anchee Min

Hardcover, 2010




New York : Bloomsbury, 2010.


In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the nineteenth century, young Willow and young Pearl S. Buck, the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries, bump heads and embark on a friendship that will sustain both of them through one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Chatterbox
This is the story of a friendship that spans decades and worlds, between American novelist Pearl Buck and the fictional Willow Yee, who first meet as young girls in the city where Pearl's father, Absalom, is trying to win converts. Willow's family are beggars; their growing ties to Pearl's family
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transform their lives, and Willow becomes a witness to Pearl's experiences as a young woman in a rapidly-changing and war-torn country that she will later channel into her novels. When they are parted, Willow, now married to a Communist leader, faces a challenge to her loyalties.

That I can describe this novel so succinctly is one of its flaws. One of the problems with Min's last novel, The Last Empress, was that it sometime read as a chatting, fast-paced history book, with some dialog thrown in for good measure, the way that history documentaries are fleshed out with re-enactments of critical scenes. It's as if Min is an omniscient narrator, one who comments on the action with observations like "It would be the last time that they saw each other...", or "She didn't yet know that..." That's a deeply irritating tendency when you're trying, as a reader, to immerse yourself in a book.

I had hoped that the problems with the Last Empress were specific to that book, which was a work of biographical fiction, after all. But the same flaws are present in this, which isn't told through the eyes of Pearl but those of her fictional friend, Willow. (That decision is one of the few structural ones that I agree with whole heartedly; Min is at her best when she's describing the daily life of china, from the popcorn man to Willow and Pearl helping Willow hatch the eggs.)

The first half, when Pearl and Willow are young and first meet, are very strong and compelling, but as the two grow up and are pulled apart by the conflicts that surround them, the pace becomes too brisk and the events described too perfunctory. Poof, Willow is married; poof, Mao has conquered China (a decade compressed into 15 pages); poof, Willow is in and out of trouble with the new authorities. Few of the characters feel three-dimensional or the situations as true to life. Willow's marriage and her relationship with her husband and her daughter, which should have been at the emotional core of the second half of the book, feel perfunctory and even her ties to Pearl, the cause of so much upheaval, aren't as convincingly portrayed.

I ended up disappointed by this book, mostly because the first third or so showed what it could have been -- a gripping novel of China in the 20th century told through the eyes of someone with an obvious understanding of those changes as well as the ability to stand back and think about their meaning. But it ends up reading more as a memoir or history with flashes of a novel, rather than a novel with its own narrative arc. I've rated it as highly as I do, because at her best, Min is very good indeed. Even in some scenes that struck me as staged pieces, such as Willow's encounters with Madame Mao, the descriptions are fascinating. They just aren't emotionally convincing, more as if she'd thought "this would be a great place to have an encounter between these characters to make this point. And that emotional power is the critical ingredient in transforming a so-so novel into a really compelling one.

I hope that this book does bring some attention back to Pearl Buck's own novels. True, some of them feel a bit dated, but many (not just "The Good Earth") are what I refer to as "thumping good reads" and end up being better fictional narratives than this one. No, Buck didn't deserve to stand alongside literary greats like Thomas Mann in receiving the Nobel Prize, and some of her short stories, in particular, are romanticized pablum. But there are good novels like Kinfolk and Pavilion of Women that I still enjoy re-reading, however dated, and her biographical novel of Tzu Hsi, the last Empress of China, is far better than Min's own retelling of that story; I'd give it a solid 4 to 4.5 stars, where I'd give Min's second volume a mere 2.5 to 3 stars.
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LibraryThing member jenngv
Ok, I was trying to get a good sense of how I felt reading this book. I read The Last Empress and I also read The Good Earth. Because I had a little insight of the author and her subject, I thought I would LOVE this book. I didn't. The Last Empress was full of color and life; this book wasn't. The
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Good Earth was deep and emotional; this book wasn't.
I have deep respect for both authors and it is very interesting to understand the life of an American with a Chinese heart in China in the early 1900's. I just didn't get a sense of passion in the writing. I think Min tried too hard. I feel like she was walking on a razor's edge, not to insult, not to idolize. I feel like she has so much emotion about the subject but couldn't give it to the story (for fear of offending???). There is a lot of history, but also speculation of the events. I felt some of it was contrived and wished upon the characters. One can get a sense of a character's heroism without the hero being perfect or wonderful. Too much good intention leads to a story without depth.
I think there was too much left unsaid - maybe Min didn't know? I wanted more about the exact condition of her daughter. I wanted more depth on her relationship with her husband, good or bad; or her lover. I felt like a distant observer. Maybe Min could have taken just a couple incidents from Buck's life and really dug deep. The most I got in emotion was fear and frustration and there wasn't really any resolution, good or bad.
I wanted to love this book, but I didn't. I wasn't even interested in finishing it. I wanted to be interested...
I have to give the book a couple stars because I respect Min's attempt on this work and her reasons for her desire to do it. I also have admiration for Pearl Buck, to write about the country that was her heart and do it with such passion.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Born of missionary parents, raised in China during the early years of the 20th century, author Pearl Buck is the Pearl of China in Anchee Min’s semi-biographical story. As seen through the eyes of Willow, her childhood friend, we learn how this blonde American comes to see herself as “totally
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Chinese under the skin”.

I found Pearl of China to be very informative and I was drawn into the story right from the start. Although her focus was on Pearl Buck, Willow led an interesting and varied life that kept the story flowing. I did find the book to be a little slow in the middle, but as there was so much true history to relate, it was understandable that the plot suffered in comparison. The end of the book touched me and I felt that we had come full circle in this friendship between these two remarkable women.

Although Willow was a fictional character and was composed of several different people that influenced Pearl Buck’s life, I found the author created a character that rang true which I am sure was difficult as Willow was used to show how the political climate in China changed every few years.

If you are looking for a true biography of Pearl Buck, this probably isn’t the book you want, but if you are interested in an emotional and moving look at the turmoil and strife that created modern China than this is a book that I would recommend.
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LibraryThing member astridnr
Stunning! This is the first book I have read by Anchee Min. I will definitely read more. Beautifully told, Pearl of China tells the story of Pearl Buck's life from the Chinese perspective. The narrator is Willow, Pearl's fictional lifelong friend. The action spans approximately 70 years and ends
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shortly after Buck's death in 1973. The daughter of an American missionary, Pearl Buck grew up in China and was forced to leave at the beginning of Mao's takeover of China in 1949. I can't begin to say enough about this novel. It was, for me, one of those rare finds that was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. It had all of the qualities one looks for in a good novel. Without spoiling the end, I just want to say that I was in tears reading the final pages. The vivid imagery and pure poetry in Min's writing are a testament to undying love and friendship.
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LibraryThing member goldnyght
I wanted to like this book, and for the most part I did. Anchee Min is an excellent author in her other books and she was excellent here. The only problem for me was that it was so focused on Pearl Buck's friend Willow that it lost Buck for long periods of time altogether. It wasn't so much a flaw
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in writing as it was a flaw in naming: this book should be called Willow of China.
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LibraryThing member ReadingWithMartinis
I've read almost all of Anchee Min's works, and I have to say that Pearl of China is my least favorite. My mother was a huge fan of Pearl Buck, so I was intrigued by the dust jacket description along with what I knew of Buck from my mom. That all quickly took a backseat once I began the novel.

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say that I enjoyed the first third of this novel quite a bit. The friendship between Willow and Pearl was sweet. The family dynamic of each girl was interesting. By the second third of the novel, I was pretty much done with Willow. The character had become increasingly annoying and unlikeable, which is unfortunate being that she was the narrator. Her story made up the bulk of the second and last thirds of the book. Pearl became an smaller and smaller part of the tale (which was actually part of the story), so being stuck with just Willow was hard since I had stopped caring about her and her story.

Aside from my general dislike of Willow, I thought there were holes in the novel. Willow describes in detail her strained relationship with her daughter Rouge. Then, very suddenly and with no explanation, they are the best of friends. Rouge is caring for an aging Willow and there is no discussion of mending fences. It had a rushed and stumbled over feeling to it.

Also, Willow's father must have been about 200 years old by the time he dies in the book. It was unrealistic that her father lived as long as he did and was as active as he was. Not that it couldn't happen, but given the life this character led, it was unbelievable to me as a reader.

Overall, I just had a general dislike for this book. It was long, kind of boring, and definitely not the intense story of friendship that the dust jacket would have one believe. I cannot say I would recommend this book, although I would not hesitate to recommend other works by Anchee Min.
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LibraryThing member schwager
What I enjoyed the most about this book was the picture of China during different political climates that the author portrays. So often in historical fiction the reader either must possess a great deal of background knowledge, or the flow of the story is impeded by the author providing that
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background. In Pearl of China the author is able to artfully weave the events and political climate into the story. This made it a good read even if, like me, you are unfamiliar with Buck's novels or modern Chinese history.

Although Buck's parents were missionaries I did find the Christian postalizing in this story too strong. The beginning of the story, particularly when the main characters were children, didn't hook me. It took me until later in the book to really begin to enjoy it. The rest of the book made up for these issues, however. And as the mark of any really successful historical fiction, it inspired an interest for me to learn more about the subject.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
I had Pearl of China waiting in my Amazon Wish List, so imagine my excitement when I discovered I had won the novel through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. I adore Buck’s novels and was looking forward to a historical fiction novel with Buck as a central character.

However, my excitement
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was short-lived. Stylistically, Min’s writing is juvenile. When I taught high school English, I used to write “short, choppy sentences—combine into fluent sentences” and “vary sentence beginnings” over and over on student essays. So much so that I thought about ordering stamps with those phrases to save my hand from cramping. If I had ordered those stamps, Min’s book would be covered in ink. At first, I thought the choppy and immature writing was because the story was told through a little girl (at first—even though she is in a flashback, I wanted to give Min some leeway). However, the horrendous style continued throughout The. Entire. Book.

For example: “His name was San-bao. He was an apprentice working for the local blacksmith. What I really had been thinking about where the soy nuts San-bao had promised me. I wondered when he would deliver the gift. My legs carried me to San-bao’s shop. I wished that I had nicer clothes. San-bao was surprised to see me” (20). Another example: “The drums finally began. Our hearts raced. We cheered with the crowd” (43). As an example of poor sentence structure and repetitive sentence beginnings, which was prevalent throughout the novel: “I knew that I was not the same person she had left behind. I wore a fashionable navy blue jacket with a low collar and a matching skirt. I had on a pair of black leather boots” (87). Many sentences began in a row with “I,” “She,” or “He,” which got tiresome very quickly.

Due to Min’s distractingly horrid style, it was difficult to become engaged in the story. Willow, from whose viewpoint the story is told, meets Pearl when they are both young girls. Pearl despises Willow because Willow is a thief, but then inexplicably, right after Pearl tells Willow that she cannot trust her, they become the best of friends. Their friendship continues throughout their adolescent years. Sprinkled throughout are references to political tensions in China; however, those are not fully delved into until the latter third of the book. What is liberally applied throughout the book are discussions about Christianity, as Pearl's father is a missionary. It almost bordered on a Christian-themed novel at times.

Pearl and Willow both marry; both marriages are unhappy, and they both find ways to escape. Pearl escapes by writing, and much is made to mention of Pearl’s escapist measures through writing. In fact, did you know that Pearl S. Buck was a writer? Because Anchee Min mentioned it on nearly every page. However, Buck is presented in a very sympathetic light—a loveless marriage, a true-love affair, the death of her affair partner, and political tensions all coincide to cause Buck grief.

The latter third of the novel is focused almost solely on the rising tensions in China between the different political parties. I found this the most interesting part, probably because I felt I was not being fed obviously untrue or altered statements about a writer whom I admire. However, it must be stressed that Anchee Min maintained a very sympathetic portrayal of Pearl S. Buck.

Overall, if you are interested in Anchee Min’s writing and/or interested in Pearl S. Buck, then you might want to check this out from the library. If you are a current or former English teacher/student, the grammar may distract you to insanity.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
"Pearl Buck and I have a long history together, and in some sense that story is at the heart of my novel. As a teen back in China in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution, I was asked to denounce Pearl Buck as an "American cultural imperialist." Though I wasn't given a change to read The Good Earth,
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I dutifully went ahead and made the denunciation. Years later, when I was living in America, [...] I read the book on a plane and burst into tears. I cried because I realized how beautifully Buck had told the story of the Chinese peasant, in a way that few others, even Chinese, had ever done. And I cried because I was only then realizing that I was only one of a generation that had been indoctrinated to think poorly of Buck. I wrote the novel to show where Pearl's great sensitivity and insight into the Chinese and Chinese culture came from. And also to show how the relationship between Pearl Buck and China changed over time, just as mine had changed." — From a Q & A with Anchee Min in the Bloomsbury edition of Pearl of China

In this fictionalized biographical account, which spans from Pearl S. Buck's years in China to several years after her death, the narrator, Willow, gives a first-person account of how she and Pearl came to know each other as little girls, and the progress of their lives as the two women become lifelong friends. Willow is an invention of course, and while Min says she based herself on several people to build that character, she also represents the fondness and admiration that Anchee Min herself has obviously developed for the American woman who embodied the Chinese spirit and went on to become a Nobel Prize-winning author, thanks to her novels which were set in China. Based on a mixture of fact and invention, Willow describes her own life situation, growing up with a father who was a beggar, and by contrast, Pearl's parents, both Presbyterian missionaries, with Pearl's father, Absalom Sydenstricker working tirelessly to bring the Christian faith to the mostly Buddhist natives, while her mother tried to bring music and culture and help the people in her own way, in a China that would never be home to her.

The first half of the book describes both young women's progress in an evolving China undergoing grave turmoil, first with the Boxer Rebellion, a proto-nationalist movement which declared war on foreigners and Christianity. During the worst of the persecutions, Pearl sought shelter in America, but returned as soon as it was safe to do so with her new husband, agricultural economist missionary, John Lossing Buck with whom she had a child, Carol, who was sadly afflicted with a condition which caused mental retardation. Willow describes what appears to be an unhappy marriage, of a husband who refused to support Pearl's fledgling writing career, of the difficulties the author faced when trying to have The Good Earth published, in a time when no one believed a book about the peasant class would be of interest to anyone. While I found all this interesting, this first part of the book seemed unconvincing; the Pearl character didn't ring true and seemed two-dimensional. But things really took off following the "Nanking Incident" during which Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops, Communist forces, and assorted warlords murdered several Westeners, and with their lives threatened Peal and her family were forced to leave China again, this time for good. From here on Willow's first person narrative mostly concentrates on relating the changes that came with the rise of communism and the cult of Mao and though Pearl remains in the background, she seems more convincing at a distance, while the dramatic changes, not least of which the Cultural Revolution, are vividly recounted, Willow having married a man who is involved with the communist party from it's very beginning and eventually becomes Mao's right hand.

All in all, this makes for a good read, and since Min took plenty of artistic license, a non-fictional account of Pearl S. Buck's life might be necessary to sort out fact from fiction. But Anchee Min does offer a uniquely Chinese perspective on Pearl's life, her relationship to China and how the Chinese people viewed her, and weaves it all into an enlightening and eminently readable novel.
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LibraryThing member eenerd
Pearl of China is a fictionalized account of the life of Pearl S. Buck from the point of view of her Chinese friend, Willow. Willow and Pearl met when children, and eventually became best friends, despite the fact that Pearl was a blonde American child of missionaries and Willow was a Chinese girl
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with no mother and a huckster father. The story follows the two girls through life and the sweeping changes that roared through China from the 1920's through the 1980's.
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LibraryThing member jrquilter
Pearl of China is a version of the life of Peal Buck as seen through the eyes of her fictionalized childhood friend, Willow. The book is written from Willow's point of view, and I found the early childhood section to be quite good. The rest of the book dragged for me. It reads like a travelogue,
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part biography, part history. The sentence structure is quite choppy, which I initially thought was written in the child Willow's voice, however this style carried throughout the book. I never felt engaged by the characters.
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LibraryThing member DevourerOfBooks
Life was not easy for Willow, a young Chinese girl in a small village at the end of the 19th century. Her family had little money, and survived mostly on what she and her father could steal, until her father was taken under the wing of Absalom, the white Christian missionary in the area. As
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Willow's father was becoming a leader of the Church under Absalom's guidance, Willow is beginning a friendship with Absalom's daughter, Pearl. Having lived in China since she was mere months old, Pearl feels more Chinese than American: hiding her blonde hair under black wool caps and singing traditional Chinese songs.

Willow and Pearl grow older, but they do not grow apart, even when Pearl has to return to the U.S. for college and other life events. Pearl begins to find her worth and her life's work in writing fiction about China, but fiction that rings true to the experiences of the peasants she has lived among for nearly her entire life. Towards the middle of the 20th century, however, there is a crest in animosity towards foreigners, and Pearl is forced to flee to America. After Mao comes to power, Willow's life is threatened by her lifelong friendship with the writer who is now being labeled a cultural imperialist.

I was initially slightly disappointed with this book, because in some ways it was more about Pearl's semi-fictional friend Willow than it was about Pearl S. Buck herself. However, as I read it I became enamored of Pearl's story set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century China. Although it took some time for me to become fully engrossed in the story, I soon found myself lost in the lives of Willow and Pearl.

What really gave this book a special heart, I think, is Anchee Min's own back story with Pearl S. Buck. Min was forced to denounce Buck as a youth during the Cultural Revolution. After she came to the United States and became a published author, she was gifted a copy of "The Good Earth" by a reader. Buck's story touched Min so deeply that the idea for "Pearl of China" was born.

Highly recommended for a look at the history of modern China, as well as of author Pearl S. Buck.
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LibraryThing member Kiri
Pearl of China is a fictional composite of probable people in China known to Pearl S. Buck throughout her life. The narrator of the tale is Willow, an early childhood friend of Pearl's who tells of Pearl's life and childhood in Chinag-kua, and companions her periodically as Pearl returns to China
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before leaving with the advent of Mao's takeover and the expulsion of foreigners. Moving through the major events of Chinese history and politics (with some serious literary license) until the end of Pearl's life and the opening of China again to the West. It ends with Willow visiting Pearl's grave and home in America.

I found this an interesting read. The setting up and focus on Pearl and Willow's childhood was interesting but slow paced. It evolves into Pearl and Willow's adult lives (viewed from Willow's perspective). This part covers many major events in Chinese - Western relations in later years, including Madame Mao's reactions to Pearl S. Buck herself. While I felt that this section could have been more fleshed out in parts, and that the letters were slightly disconcerting - as they had no responses - to fully treat all of these events would have made this a tome of too large proportions and much past the perspective of a historical novel as was the obvious scope initially. I particularly enjoyed the Author's Note of how Anchee Min's perspective had been formed regarding Pearl S. Buck while growing up, and how it had changed since. Her own experience as an author is also telling. I do not think she needed a mea culpa, but this is a fine attempt.

I think many will find this a delightful companion read to biographies of Pearl S. Buck and her own wonderful novels. Both are authors to be read with pleasure.

I'd like to extend a sincere Thank you to Kristina and Bloomsbury USA for my courtesy copy of Pearl of China through the Early Reviewers Program.
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LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Pearl of China is the story of the life of award-winning author Pearl S. Buck seen through the eyes of WIllow, her fictional life-long best friend. The author's note indicates that Willow is a conflation of several real friends in the life of Pearl Buck, however, so many events described did take
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place in much the way the author indicates.

All that being said, this novel left me strangely cold and did not engage my interest. The writing style was choppy and graceless, with short sentences and a strange lack of descriptive passages. Characters often tell the reader things about themselves and each other that the reader should have been able to see. The passage of time....many handled clumsily, with single paragraphs often glossing over the passage of many years. Events and time periods we the reader would have liked to see more closely are barely sketched in, as with Willow's disastrous marriage and her eventual move to Shanghai and involvement in the Cultural Revolution--both events that could offer rich insight into Chinese culture but were instead barely mentioned.

While I'm certain that people with an interest in the early life of Pearl S. Buck will find much of interest here, those, like me, hoping for a lyrical and moving treatment of the lives of women in China will be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member itbgc
This is a novel about Willow, a fictionalized, close friend of the famous author, Pearl Buck, and what it was like living in China from about 1890 to 1976. The story begins as Willow and Pearl become acquainted as young children. Pearl’s father is an often-fanatical Christian missionary who is
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trying to convert the Chinese from their traditional religions, and Pearl’s mother is a caring woman who is trapped in a bad marriage but nonetheless helping the poor, sewing, and sharing her musical gifts. Besides focusing on Pearl and Willow through the years, much of the book focuses on how ordinary citizens survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution, including Christians in the underground church.

I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in China, and especially if you love Pearl Buck’s books. By the way, I felt this book was much more enjoyable than the biography written by Peter Conn regarding Pearl’s life, Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography.
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LibraryThing member HoneyBee4Me
Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize winning author, was a household name when I was growing up so I was thrilled for the opportunity to read Pearl of China by Anchee Min (AR book).
Anchee Min’s novel is based on Buck’s life in China with the addition of a fictional childhood friend, “Willow”, who
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resembles the author herself in many ways.

Pearl arrived in China as a baby and grew up there like other Chinese children. China was Pearl’s real home. Her life as the daughter of missionaries exposed her to a wide variety of diverse people and ideas. Pearl absorbed these ideas becoming the strong, independent thinker we recognize in later years. The story of Buck‘s years in China carried her from living in a feudal, agricultural system through to civil war proceeding the arrival of communism when she fled in exile to America. Her fictional friend “Willow” remains behind and describes the turbulent changes as Mao launches his Cultural Revolution.

While the author’s writing style is very simplistic which would make Pearl of China more attractive to a younger teen reader, it does help simplify a complicated, political situation making it easier to follow for the less informed reader. I didn’t understand a lot of the poetry Min includes throughout her book but that seemed to emphasize the brilliance of Pearl Buck’s own insight into oriental culture. I enjoyed this novel because it has aroused my curiosity about one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member ZippySuzy
I always enjoy books by Anchee Min. I have read all her books and enjoyed Pearl of China as much as the others. The character of Willow is interesting and thoughtful. Her friendship with Pearl is very powerful and we discover the depth of Pearl's love of China and Willow in the final chapters of
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the book. Reading this book has encouraged me to seek out books by Pearl S. Buck to learn more about China and it's people.
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LibraryThing member corglacier7
This book involves the story of two women: Pearl S. Buck, and a fictional friend, Willow, based on Buck's childhood experiences as the daughter of a missionary in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The story has its good points: Willow as a child with her view of China
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during this time, and her friendship with Pearl, rings true. There's a lot of little details that make for good storytelling, such as Pearl's mother raising her piano off the floor to avoid the wood being ruined by regular floods and damp.

The later portions, involving Pearl's leaving China and the changes in the country as reported by Willow, are less clear and less interesting. The political situation in China is somewhat glossed over and the simplistic nature of the narrative just doesn't quite ring true as the early years. After the excellent start, these parts feel slow and a bit more contrived.

As a snapshot of a way of life in a bygone country, and mainly as a memoir of a young girl and a true friendship, "Pearl of China" works beautifully. If the book had focused entirely on these early years with perhaps an epilogue to cover the period after Pearl's leaving, I think it would have been stronger for it. "Pearl of China" is a good read, even wonderful early on, and I do recommend it. It's given me cause to go read more about Pearl Buck and this period in Chinese history, which is a definite success for a novel of historical fiction. But compared to the likes of Lisa See, this book is not quite a great one.
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LibraryThing member mlvanmeter-read
What starts off as novel-like a story about childhood friends, turns into a jumpy biography/history novel.

In the novel, Willow and Pearl (Pearl S. Buck of The Good Earth fame) grow up in the same village and grow a deep friendship that spans their lives. In reality, we're not sure this
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relationship actually exists. This isn't a problem, per sae, except that the second half of the novel seems to want you to understand the historical aspects of Pearl S. Buck. This left me feeling confused about what was true and what was literally license.

In the end, I wished the author had just stuck with a lovely story about Pearl and Willow leaving the challenges of covering ALL of the historical details of Pearl S. Buck to another book.
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LibraryThing member angela.vaughn
This was a fantastic read. I have always been a great admirer of Buck, and this book really brought home her life and everything she and all the people of China went through. Min has a wonderful way of writing that sucks you in. Although it is written as fiction, the historical facts shine through
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and take you to the heart of the revolution and its victims. I have already recommended this book to my Facebook friends and my family, so I imagine my copy will be worn out before the month is up. I am just sorry it took so long to pick it up in the first place. Bravo!
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LibraryThing member janflora
This was a wonderful book to read to learn more about the life of Pearl Buck, the Nobel Prize winner for THE GOOD EARTH, who grew up in China and is considered a national heroine for writing about the country and its people. Though the main story, and the narrator are fictional, Ms. Min's
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recreation of the country as it moved from imperialism, through the Communist Revolution to modern China is filled with authentic details that bring the history to life. As you read the story of two girls from different countries growing up in the same culture and learning as much about their own as the other's, it is easy to be absorbed in the friendship and believe it could be completely true. I have to admit, I learned more about both Ms. Buck and China itself from this read than I have before. I read THE GOOD EARTH in high school and did not absorb as much as I did with this book. I plan to reread it, knowing more about the author's background, with a new perspective.
Anchee Min grew up in Communist China herself and was kept from reading Pearl Buck's writings, as she was called an enemy by the government at the time. It was not until after Ms. Min had left China and become a successful writer herself that she was introduced to the truth about the woman who considered herself Chinese by nature if not by birth and who introduced mid-twentieth century America to a mysterious culture, writing about the beauty and strength of the average Chinese citizen. The fact that Ms. Min was able to learn so much and change her view so completely to be able to bring her fictional account to life in PEARL OF CHINA is amazing to me. Even if you have not read Pearl Buck, or know little about Chinese culture, you can follow the story of friendship, growth and female strength through her lovely story.
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LibraryThing member karenlisa
Pearl of China is a fantastic story about two friends named Willow and Pearl that venture out in the world together. Loved this story about China in the late 1800's. The people, the politics, love and friendship, this story covers it all. Enjoyable read, takes the reader away to another land.
LibraryThing member Soniamarie
At times while reading this, I questioned whether this book was really about Pearl Buck or about Christianity in China. I realize that with Pearl being the daughter of missionaries, religion is unavoidable. However, the religious talk, the god this and god that was overwhelming. I occasionally will
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pick up a Christian fiction book due to the story lines they contain and I honestly feel this book had more "god talk" than any Christian novel I have picked up.

Pearl grew up in early 1900s China and her story is told from the viewpoint of her best friend, Willow. The beginning is great except for the religion and church stuff being mentioned constantly and I enjoyed reading about the young girls growing up. Upon Pearl's leaving to attend college in the United States, however, a lot of very interesting stuff like marriages and pregnancies is just summed up in a few sentences in letters to Pearl. The book then continues in this fashion. Pearl adopts a daughter and there is one sentence devoted to it. Um, I would consider adopting a child a major life episode deserving more attention. Later, when Willow goes thru a shocking episode it is neatly summed up in a matter such as this: "They kidnapped me and tortured me and I fainted." That is not a quote from the book, but an example of how the story is told. I would have preferred more details about the drama in these two women's lives and what they were feeling than what was going on with the church and Absalom.

Then it gets political with Communism and Mao taking over. The last quarter had a bit more "feeling" to it, more like this author's "Empress Orchid" and more like what I was expecting. However, I didn't really like this book. Between the religion and the skipping over what could have been amazing stories, it was a miss for me. After putting it down for the last time tho, I realized I knew a lot more about the Boxer Rebellion, Madame Mao, and Chinese culture in general than I did before I picked it up so three stars.
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LibraryThing member Litfan
"Pearl of China" is the fictional tale of the friendship between Willow, a lonely native Chinese girl, and the young Pearl, who will grow up to be the Nobel prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. Pearl is the daughter of missionaries in China and is considered by Willow to be "Chinese on the inside."
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The story begins at the turn of the 20th century; as the winds of change begin to blow in China, Pearl and Willow's friendship is tested. Once Pearl becomes an adult, she is forced to leave China due to increasing danger to foreigners there in the wake of growing communism.

This is a very touching story, and it brings to life the power and endurance of female friendship. It challenges assumptions about culture and belonging, and looks at the limited choices women had in early 20th century China. It captures the social and political upheaval of a country in flux with accurate historical detail. Finally, it explores the liberating power of literature, for it's through her novels that Pearl is able to truly express her love for China.

This is a beautifully written book that will pique curiosity about the life and works of Pearl Buck. It is a celebration of her life and her role in Chinese history and of the role that friendship plays in surviving unspeakable hardships. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member reads4pleasure
A fictional account of acclaimed author Pearl S. Buck's life is the basis of Anchee Min's latest, Pearl of China. As a fan of both Anchee Min and Pearl Buck, I was eager to read this and was not disappointed. I've loved Pearl Buck since I picked up The Good Earth years ago, but I didn't know much
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about her. Yes, I could have Googled or Wikipedia'd her, but I didn't. I waited for someone to release a book about her and I'm glad I did.

To introduce us to Pearl, the author creates the fictional character Willow. The only child of a poor family in Chin-kiang, Willow initially sees Pearl and her family of missionaries as easy prey for food and money. Eventually the girls become best friends and so starts a friendship that lasts over sixty years.

Though this is a fictional account of the life of Pearl Buck, the history of China upon which it is set are not. The civil war between the Nationalists and Communists, as well as the rise of Emperor Mao were very real events that Pearl Buck lived through.

What did you like about this book?
I learned so much about Pearl Buck that I didn't know. Presented the way Anchee Min does makes it a much more enjoyable read than perhaps a regular memoir would have.

What didn't you like about this book?
There was a lot of Chinese poetry mixed in. While I would have welcomed some, it became a bit too much, especially as Buck's university days were explored.

What could the author do to improve this book?
Once Buck departed China the bulk of the story became that of Willow. I would have liked to have learned more about Buck's years in America after living in China for more than half her life.
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