DATE READ: June 2011
NOTES: I have been fascinated by the books by Pearl Buck that I have read…..especially The Good Earth which paints such a vivid picture of peasant life in China. However I knew virtually nothing about the author so was intrigued to read Hilary Spurling’s biography.
Pearl Buck had an amazing life that Hilary Spurling brings alive to the reader. Buck’s
parents went out to China in 1880s as missionaries. They were met with indifference from the local people and at times antagonism. But they also had to face dirt and disease. Spurling recounts the heart-rending events of losing three of their children in quick succession to cholera and fever. Pearl’s father was a driven man who cast aside everything except his work of proselytising; her mother was lively and sociable. Spurling acknowledges the contradictions in their lives. They were happy to ride roughshod over Chinese culture to encourage the conversion of souls but gave Pearl a Chinese tutor (as well as an amah) who taught her Confucianism as well as Calligraphy. Her ability to understand and communicate with so many different strata of Chinese society is what made her so different from writers at that time. She was able brave enough to tackle some taboo subjects: the subjugation of women, infanticide and marital rape.
From an early age Pearl Buck seems to have felt compelled to write but was only really keen to publish when she needed the funds. Spurling points out the irony that in her later life Buck was referred to in China as an interfering imperialist while back in America her espoused liberal causes made her a target for McCarthy.
This is a beautifully written book that sweeps the reader into the world of a fascinating woman writer.