A couple of months ago, I sat next to Anchee Min at a lunch hosted by Diesel, A Bookstore. It was Min’s first stop on a whirlwind cross country book tour for Pearl of China. She started the conversation with “I will rock your boat” Over the course of lunch, Min certainly rocked me, the book a bit less so but it is certainly worth the time to read, especially for people who know little about Chinese history. This post will talk about the book and the next post will relay some of the interesting stories Min told about her life.
Min’s Experience of Pearl Buck
Pearl of China tells the story of Pearl S. Buck’s life in China from the Chinese perspective using the point of view of her fictional best friend Willow, a Chinese woman. Min’s first awareness of Pearl occurred when a teacher told her to denounce Pearl in middle school. Min didn’t know who Pearl was and she when asked, the teacher said Pearl was someone who made the Chinese peasant look bad. Decades later at a reading for Red Azalea, a fan asked Min if she had read The Good Earth. The fan said that after reading it, he loved the Chinese people and he gave Min a copy. Min read the book on her way home and fell in love with it. It was evident from her talk, that Min grew to appreciate Pearl also. Pearl lived in China for 40 years and then in the US for 40 years, a part of both places. This resonated with Min because she was in China for 27 years and now in US for 26 years, a citizen of both and neither.
Denounced under Mao and forbidden to return to China (Pearl’s daughter told Min that Madam Mao refused to allow Pearl to return to China because she predicted that Mao would rule China but she refused to support him), now Pearl is a designated as a “Friend of China.” One of the homes where Pearl and her mother lived in Chinkiang is restored as a museum dedicated to her (see a tour of the home in the video). Min described the Museum Director accepting the “Friend of China” certificate by saying with frustration, “Pearl is not a friend of China, but a daughter of China.” Min views Pearl as a part of Chinese history, not a visitor who wrote a book.
When writing the romance aspect of the book, Min followed the example of the stories of Chairman Mao and Madam Mao courtship. Their interactions before they lived together in a cave are well know, there aren’t any stories about their time inn cave, but then there are tales about when they came out and she was pregnant and they were married. The action “off camera”can be assumed by reader. In Pearl’s life, she had an unhappy marriage. Min learned from one biographer that Pearl met a Chinese poet and during that time she wrote a letter saying she was in love. From another biographer, Min learned that Pearl wished she married a poet. Those two kernels of information provided the inspiration for the romance in the book where the actual love scenes remain unspoken but easily assumed.
My Thoughts on the Book
I’m a fan of The Good Earth, so I enjoyed gaining a greater sense of Pearl’s life. Min wanted to give the reader the Chinese story of Pearl’s life, and she accomplished her goal. This version emphasizes Pearl in China and her influence Read the rest of this entry »