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Pearl Buck in China: Journey to The Good Earth

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  754 ratings  ·  161 reviews
One of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary Americans, Pearl Buck was the first person to make China accessible to the West.


She recreated the lives of ordinary Chinese people in The Good Earth, an overnight worldwide bestseller in 1932, later a blockbuster movie. Buck went on to become the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published March 25th 2010)
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From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
In "Burying The Bones", distinguished biographer Hilary Spurling takes as her subject Pearl Buck, the highly influential American author whose astonishing life proved even more fantastic than her popular novels of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Born to Christian missionaries in 1890s China, Buck's writing helped change Western perceptions of that country forever; in recognition of which she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Pearl's Pulitzer Prize-winning nove
Richard Williams
I ask myself when i am reading a book and afterwards, like now, when i write the review, what is the genre? even before i ask, what is the book about? this book is a biography, but an rather unusual one. first it is really about her first 35 years, those years in china. second, it really isn't about facts, dates etc but is like a forensic literary investigation into how she incorporated her childhood into her books. the author scours pearl buck's literary output for hints about what she was thin ...more
Overall, it was a real good angry woman read...until the end of her[ie. Pearl's:] life...when ..I came to have some doubts...all of this was heavily influenced by my memories of having been told of this woman's life and times by my paternal grandmother...who saw Pearl as something of a style that is. I did enjoy some of stuff about life in China and the many social changes and times she was witness too...the biographer seems to have a good idea of the many facets this woman had t ...more
After reading "The Good Earth," which I liked enormously, I decided to read this biography of Pearl Buck. "The Good Earth" is an excellent novel (see my earlier review) written by a woman who loved China and the Chinese people. In this excellent biography of its author – Pearl Buck – Spurling tells about both the events in Pearl Buck’s life that led up to the writing of "The Good Earth," which spent two years at the top of the best-seller list and won its author a Pulitzer Prize, and the events ...more
This has to be one of the best biographies I've ever read. It was riveting. Spurling's prose made it read almost like a novel, and a very good novel at that. It doesn't matter if you've read anything by Pearl Buck, you will want to when you're done. I've read The Good Earth but will reread it with a completely new eye next time.

Pearl's early life was lonely, harrowing and disturbing. Her father's missionary zeal and her mother's unhappiness left her with no one but her younger sister, Grace. Fou
Raised in China by an over zealous missionary father and long suffering mother, Pearl Sydenstricker Buck had an extraordinary childhood. Her loving mother, Carrie, saw to her education and her stern misogynist father, Absalom, made a difficult life more difficult for the everyone around him.

At a young age Pearl saw extreme poverty, disaster and death in rural China. Pearl lost four siblings in ways that could be attributed to her family's living conditions. At times the family lived without runn
I enjoyed most of the novels of Pearl Buck. She seemed to catch the essence of behavior patterns of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, and how they are different, and described them lovingly. She was particularly interested in ordinary, poor people, as in her masterpiece, "The Good Earth". This volume is a biography covering her childhood as daughter of a single-minded missionary bent on converting the heathens but not interested in understanding them. The missionary's wife had a rough time, living ...more
Apr 02, 2010 Laura rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Hayes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
One of the best crafted biographies I have encountered, this is a completely absorbing story of a remarkable life--a life that bridged two disparate cultures. Spurling is able to extract the most interesting aspects without unnecessary detail as many of the long bios do. The reaction to the publication of "The Good Earth"; her naivete about publishing in America, and of course life in the U.S. all make for absorbing reading. When she became a college student at Randolph-Macon, the students at th ...more
Since I was in China last spring, I’ve been overdosing on books about their tumultuous 20th century. Though Pearl Buck (1892–1973) was an American she spent much of her life in China and her heart remained there even when she lived in the United States.

The best biographies make me feel as if I’m there… and I was there with Pearl from her life as a child of missionaries living in rural poverty, through the Boxer Rebellion and civil war, with her inattentive husband and trying to understand what
Mary Addison-lamb
This is a fascinating look at Pearl Buck, the FIRST woman to win a Nobel prize for literature for The Good Earth. A book that she thought in Chinese and wrote in English! Her Chinese/English readers say that it is really a masterpiece for looking at and writing about the world as a native Chinese. Hilary Spurling does a masterful job of showing us Pearl's changing perspective on missionary work, her parents and her relationship to America. I can't wait to reread TGE and Imperial Woman. Maybe ev ...more
Spurling obviously did extensive research for this book. Unfortunately, the editing and transfer of that information to an enjoyable read was severely lacking. The text read more like a dissertation rather than an entertaining compilation of the events in Buck’s life. I did persevere and slogged through to find the more significant and important points, but there were far too many unimportant and unnecessary portions that should have been edited. The beginning of the book focused primarily on he ...more
False Millennium
I read Pearl Buck novels as a child and teen, then never went near her again. She was popular in her day, but that day has passed. You never hear her mentioned anymore. I didn't like this book, yet entered it wanting to like it. The writing style read like a dissertation, or a term paper; i.e. flat. Things I didn't like about Pearl as a person: her ability to dump husbands when they were no longer useful to her, her icing over her parent's lives, after suffering through an abusive childhood of d ...more
Sally Wessely
Rating this book was difficult for me. Hilary Spurling did a great job of researching her subject matter. She wrote a cohesive and informative biography about a woman whose life was fascinating. I felt it was a bit too scholarly to read well. I appreciate scholarship in biography, but I also like to think I am reading about a real person that I come to know well. I can't decide if Pearl Buck became a flat character in the hands of her biographer who only was represented by quoting what she wrote ...more
Thought-provoking and beautifully written, this biography puts the author and her times in context. Spurling has a knack for sensory detail, colorful character traits and thoughtful analysis. A highly recommended biography, I read this in about 8 hours over the course of 2 weeks.
Finally--done with this book. I can only give one star to books that I don't finish, hence the two. I love Pearl Buck, but man, I struggled with this book mostly because I was bored.
An excellent biographer - looking forward to reading whatever else she has written.
Jul 24, 2010 Pia marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
recommendation from NPR. she wrote good earth?
I enjoyed the book, both because I got an overview of Chinese history during the time and for a glimpse of Pearl Buck's life. What an interesting person and life, not at all what I thought I knew.
It is well written and rich in detail, yet does not bog down. I found myself eager to pick it up and read again. Some of the authors prejudices peek through, but hers is not a judgmental voice and the subject matter could easily have been approached that way.
I recommend it if you are interested in her
I have to say that Pearl Buck was an amazing woman!

Pearl as a young girl with her family.

Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, stationed in China. Pearl was the fourth of seven children (and one of only three who would survive to adulthood). She was born when her parents were near the end of a furlough in the United States; when she was three months old, she wa
This is a biography of an author who grew up under extraordinary circumstances and became famous writing variously, about her own family, and about sharply drawn fictional characters inspired by her experiences. Her most important literary creation was, of course, "The Good Earth", which earned her renown for its portrayal of the common people of China, neglected in writings even by Chinese authors who considered the rural poor to be of no interest as subject matter. Pearl won the Pulitzer Prize ...more
Pearl Buck was the first American women to win a Nobel Prize for literature (Toni Morrison is the only other). Buck's most popular books, the ones that won her critical acclaim, were about China, where Buck grew up as the daughter of Calvinist missionaries. For decades, most of what Americans "knew" about China and its people came from Buck's novels.

Spurling does a wonderful job telling the story of Buck's life and how she came to become a writer. Although Buck published her first couple books
I'll admit right up front I did not finish the book. (An unfortunate trend for me right now. I don't think I have finished the last 3 books I started reading.)

I started reading this book for a book group I am in and I really enjoyed the first parts of it which described her childhood in China. I have lived in Taiwan for 2 years and have been to China a couple times so that part was wonderful for me. I found her family life as a child fascinating. I loved how the history of China during that time
Mandy J. Hoffman

This is a unique story of a brave woman who endured a hard life. While it's a fascinating story, the book tends to be a hard read. I listened to the audio version and had a hard enough time just getting through that, let alone physically sitting to read it. It's not so much Pearl's story that is so hard to read, but rather they way it is presented through it's original print version. Although, I must admit that this audio version is not the most easy to listen to either. The narration
Sep 04, 2011 Harley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all writers and artists
This is fascinating story of the life of Pearl Buck. She was born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker on June 26, 1892 in American. Her parents (Carie and Absalom) were missionaries in China. Her early years were spent in poverty, in a strange land, hated by the Chinese. Her father was seldom home and her mother ran the household. She graduated from college in America. She married John Lossing Buck who took her back to China where he surveyed Chinese farming methods. Like her father, her husband travell ...more
When I review biographies, it is difficult to separate the subject from the author's writing skill from the author's attitude toward her subject not to mention accuracy.
This book focuses on Pearl Buck's early life in China up to the publication of The Good Earth as the title says. And this is fascinating and well-written. I can't vouch for accuracy. Pearl grows up in China in a missionary family with occasional long, jolting trips to the US. She marries an agricultural missionary and spends a n
This was very well done, especially when describing Buck's earliest years. Her childhood in China with a zealous missionary father reads a bit like "Poisonwood Bible"! I loved, and was horrified by, the descriptions of those years. As the book progresses, particularly once she is married, I began to get the timeline a bit confused and sometimes "lost" people (her father, sister) for periods. One minute they are all living together and the next...where did they go? The author is very good at link ...more
I have long believed that fiction is merely "patchwork biography," and Pearl S. Buck only makes it appear so more.

This, perhaps more than any other biography that I've ever read, helped me see the holistic person of an individual we tend to esteem highly based on a small parcel of knowledge. Pearl is known as an author - one who grew up in China - and is especially known for her bestseller The Good Earth. But I never dreamed that she didn't become a writer until her thirties. I never dreamed tha
Bookmarks Magazine
One of the challenges of writing about a great author, particularly one who has elegantly written about her own life, is deciding when to use one's own words and when to let the writer speak for herself. A similar challenge faces the reviewer, and critics reading Pearl Buck in China mostly used their articles as occasions to celebrate the subject rather than the biography. Still, if reviewers were not effusive in their praise, they had few complaints about Spurling's book and clearly admired her ...more
The lack of success of Pearl's father in making converts, even among the uneducated Chinese poor, is breathtaking. How could any church continue to support this? How he could stand by and watch his Chinese supporters be tortured and killed because they followed him? Depriving one's family of support and the name of one's cause...makes no sense.

My takeaway from this book was that Pearl's most important message is that you must truly understand the situation of the peoples who are th
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Hilary Spurling, CBE, FRSL (born 1940) is a British writer, known as a journalist and biographer. She won the Whitbread Prize for the second volume of her biography of Henri Matisse in January 2006. Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China was published in March 2010.
She is married to playwright John Spurling, and has three children (Amy, Nathaniel and Gilbert) and two grandchildren.
More about Hilary Spurling...
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“Interrogated by Pearl about the smell of roasting men and whether the Chinese variety smelled different from white flesh, Wang Amah replied confidently that white meat was coarser, more tasteless and watery, "because you wash yourselves so much.” 1 likes
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