Louise's Reviews > Pearl of China

Pearl of China by Anchee Min
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Apr 29, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in April, 2011

Willow Yee lived in Chin-kiang, a small town far away from the city of Peking, on the south side of the Yangtze River in Jiangsu province. She lived there with her father and grandmother, Nai Nai. Her mother had died after her father rented her out to pay his debts and she became pregnant. He had given her “magic root powder” from the local herbalist. It was meant to expel the fetus but also killed her!

Willow was seven-years-old in 1897 and she was terribly afraid she was going to lose her Nai Nai like she lost her mother. Grandma was receiving men in the back of the bungalow they lived in. While Nai Nai was busy entertaining her men, Willow and her father worked as seasonal farm hands, he planting rice, wheat and cotton and Willow planting soybeans. In the off season her father stole and Willow, now 8-years-old, was herself a seasoned thief. Hunger does terrible things to people.

One day they met a missionary named Absalom Sydenstricker who walked the streets holding a Bible and proclaiming God was people’s best friend. He held his church services in an old store. Willow’s father befriended him for the sole purpose of stealing from him. Absalom’s wife, Carie, was beside herself and in tears when he even stole the churches doormat. After stealing his wallet, Willow hurried down a side street and out of town. She felt as though someone was watching and following her so she took off running as fast as she could toward the hills, after a couple of miles she stopped and sat down. As Willow began to open the wallet she heard a noise and knew someone was approaching her. Suddenly she heard: “...you stole my father’s wallet”! It turned out to be Absalom and Carie’s daughter, Pearl. Pearl would eventually become known as none other than Pearl S. Buck!

I have read all of Pearl’s books but had never really read too much about her personal life. I assumed she was a happy, contented, well-educated woman and author all her life, but I was terribly mistaken. What I learned in this book about Pearl’s “personal” life was truly sad and literally devastating. The book is rich in history, wars and revolutions, love of family and the importance of friendship. The friendship between Willow and Pearl is all consuming and will touch the very deepest parts of your heart. The scene near the end of the novel at the grave will have you weeping from the beautiful one woman service.

This was an extremely well-written novel. I was so taken in that I kept turning the pages faster and faster. It was one of those books you didn’t want to put down. If you haven’t read any of Pearl S. Buck’s books, I highly recommend “The Good Earth”, along with this one, of course.

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