Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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Weaving a colorful tapestry of Pearl Buck's life (1892-1973) with strands of Chinese history and literature, Spurling, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize for Matisse the Master-vividly correlates Buck's experiences of China's turbulent times to her novels. Growing up in a missionary family in China, Buck lived through the upheavals of the Boxer Rebellion and China's civil war, two marriages, and a daughter with a degenerative disease; her closeup view of the horrors of China's extreme rural poverty made her an American literary celebrity as well as a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize winner when she enshrined her observations of China in the Good Earth trilogy. Back in the United States, having opened America's eyes to China, Buck worked to repeal America's discriminatory laws against the Chinese and established an adoption agency for minority and mixed race children. For her support of racial equality, Buck was blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer even as her books were banned in Communist China "for spreading reactionary, imperialist lies"; Spurling's fast-paced and compassionate portrait of a writer who described the truth before her eyes without ideological bias, whose personal life was as tumultuous as the times she lived in, will grip readers who, unlike Spurling, didn't grow up reading Buck's work. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Pearl Buck, the controversial, best-selling author of The Good Earth (1931) and a trailblazing Nobel laureate, was a quasar-bright celebrity, but her fame quickly dimmed after her death in 1973. Now, by some strange force, her radiance is resurgent. Anchee Min fictionalized Buck's dramatic life in Pearl of China (2010), and Spurling, Matisse's splendid biographer, adeptly matches factual rigor with enthralling insights in this brilliantly contextualized and beautifully crafted portrait of a unique cultural interpreter. Born in 1892 to beleaguered American missionaries, intrepid and book-loving Pearl Sydenstricker was shaped by the miseries of Chinese rural life, from floods to disease, famine, and war. Sadly, her marriage to John Lossing Buck, a pioneering agricultural economist, was oppressive; her concern for their mentally disabled daughter wrenching; and her grief over the Chinese people's epic suffering and her own exile was devastating. But, as Spurling chronicles so sensitively, Buck boldly channeled her profound knowledge of China into novels of mass appeal meant to incinerate Western prejudices. Lauded and condemned in America and banned in China, Buck, a pivotal player in U.S.-Chinese relations and a dauntless champion for universal human rights, lived a life of staggering traumas and triumphs.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Spurling's narrative of Buck's life in China is as compelling a story as Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Good Earth (1931). The daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and the wife of an agricultural specialist, Buck was often at risk from cholera and malaria, floods and famine, marauding gangs and battling soldiers. Unlike four of her siblings, she survived, but deliberate forgetfulness became her weapon against painful memories, which included the tensions in her parents' marriage, her own marital troubles, and her struggles to bridge the worlds of China and the US. Spurling, best known for her two-volume biography of Henri Matisse (The Unknown Matisse, 1998; Matisse the Master, CH, Apr'06, 43-4452), traveled from Shanghai to Virginia to research Buck, who spent her final three decades in the US. Although Peter Conn's excellent Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (CH, Jan'97, 34-2608) describes the second half of Buck's life in much greater detail, Spurling's treatment of Buck's Chinese roots may have an even more important impact on future Buck scholarship. China's legacy of Confucian ethics, frank sexuality, imperial dynasties, and revolutionary passion indelibly shaped the prolific writer, whose name appears in Chinese characters on her Pennsylvania gravestone. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. J. W. Hall University of Mississippi