Chrissie's Reviews > Pearl of China

Pearl of China by Anchee Min
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's review
Dec 02, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: china, bio, usa
Recommended to Chrissie by: Tara

Only three stars, and I will try and explain why. First of all the title tells you the book is about Pearl S. Buck, but much of what you learn about her is summarized in short sentences. So much is missing. Pearl is described throough the eyes of her friend Willow Yee. The book is in fact more about Willow's life than Pearl's! Furthermore, a very large portion of the book concerns Christianity in China. I think the title is deceptive and falsely attracts readers by flagging with Pearl's name.

We all know a good author should show rather thean tell us what happens and how people feel. I continually felt that I was being told a story. She thought this and then he did that. This was very, very disturbing. As you get further into the book you feel this less, but the first 1/3 of the book was very hard for me. It was all a rather distant story with lots of talk about Christianity. Furthermore, how Christianity was portrayed in the beginning was very disturbing. Absalom, Pearl's father, could only think of converting the Chinese. NOTHING else was important to this guy!. He totally neglected his family. You cannot help but think - is HE a good person? At the same time the Chinese were only interested in a religion that would benefit them materially. Willow's father thought he could benefit by aiding Absalom so he "sold" Chrisianity, convincing the Chinese villagers that their old gods had failed. Look how miserable their lives were. The whole thing, although perhaps realistic, was like a PR gimmick and it was disgusting. By the end of the book, the Chinese Christian converts really DID believe in the principles of Christianity, and I felt more comfortable. Absalom established the largest Christina community in southern China. Still, I am not religious and I always felt a distance between their beliefs and my own. I continually was fighting the thought - how can they feel that? How can they believe that?

So why not just one star? Well, the latter half of the book covers more history - the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the 30s, the Boxer Rebellion, Madame Mao personality traits, how dissident prisoners were treated and the procession of power from Dr. Sun Yat-sen to Chiang Kai-shek and later to Mao to Madame Mao to Chou En-lai to Deng Xiaoping. I found this a good SUMMARY of what happened. I think life during the Cultural Revolution was well portrayed. At this point Pearl has left China! You see what I mean, the book really isn't about Pearl! Yes, what she was writing and how she almost came to visit China with Nixon are carefully described. (Note - I use the word described again!) However you DO get to know Pearl. You understand what moved her. You understand how she truly felt more Chinese than American. I very much liked how the book ended. In talking about the garden in Pearl's American home and Willow's visit to Pearl's grave you grasp the beauty of different cultures. Ultimately I think the book does a good job of portraying how a Chinese thinks. To survive you must hide what your really think. History has taught them to grab at straws and think of ingenuous ways to get by. Look at the recent history of invasion by Japan, then civil war and then Mao....... I also enjoyed learning about the poet Hsu Chih-mo, the musician Ah-Bing and several Chinese traditions, particularly the "tofu banquet". I am definitely glad I read the book, but I don't like that the author sold it under a false name (ie the title)!

I received this book in the mail as a present from Tara. THANK YOU TARA.

BOY oh boy does Belgium mail suck!!! I mailed Year of Wonders to Tara a few days before she mailed hers, and still mine hasn't reached her...... Now more than a month has gone by and my book has not been delivered!!!!!! Am I mad? No, I am furious! I have been having huge angry "discussions" with the postal services here. I have to admit defeat. I can do nothing........ Well at least I got a chance to express my anger in French! I am sure they got my point, no matter how badly I expressed it! And Tara was sent a box of Belgian chocolates instead! They are probably better than the lost book! This second package I mailed "insured". If they loose this one they can follow it step by step to see whio ate the chocolate. I hope they arrive, un-nibbled on!

(((HUGS))) to Tara!

P.S. the book I sent Tara DID eventually arrive - after a delay of 40 days. I wonder if someone read it along the way?! Now hopefully Tara acan read and nibble chocolates at the same time. :0)
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03/18 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)

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Tara Chevrestt No problem, Chrissie! And you are welcome. :)

message 2: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne I can't wait to see your review of this one!

Chrissie Hi Lynne, we got back from Brittany on Tuesday night - busy, busy, busy after being gone 16 days. I was spoiled rotten. Every day except for one we walked on the beaches for about three hours. Oscar had a fabulous time sximming, chasing seaweed blowing in the air, trying to loosen buoyies, making birds fly off in a bunch and running and diving and NEVER sitting still. We walked bundles up, pushing against the strong winds and he ran and swam. The water was FREEZING, but these dogs are made for this! It was so beautiful. My mind is cleared...... Did you have fun on the island - you were going to camp and see family! I will send you a message but give me a while! I am in the process of going through photos to put on my profile page.

Yup, thanks to Tara I have this book! So far it is very good, but I am so busy I haven't much serious reading time!

Tara Chevrestt I am in complete agreement with you. You make an excellent point about the author Telling instead of Showing.. Wonderful review.

Chrissie I just went and re-read your review. We really, really did have similar thoughts. After reading a book, that is when yo can really understand what others say. That is when you can best judge a review! Yours was super.

Tara Chevrestt Thanks, but I thought yours was better. LOL

Wendy How ironic - I just started reading this one today! I love stories set in China and other Asian countries so I have high hopes for this one ... and I think Pearl Buck was a great writer. After reading your review, Chrissie, I'll read it with a more discerning eye! Thanks for your thoughts on this one!

message 8: by Chrissie (last edited Apr 21, 2010 09:29PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Wendy, everyone experiences books differently! My review merely expresses how I felt while reading the book! I am very happy I read the book! Wendy, if you are interested in books about Asia, check out The Pure Land. That was wonderful!

The question that arises for me is if I should read more by this author...... I have always been interested in her book Empress Orchid. Rather than inflating my already towering Chrissie's TBR Mt. I add only one book by a new author. After I have read that book I THEN judge if I should add another. I do want to learn more about the last Empress Tzu Hsi, but will the writing style be the same?

Wendy I do the same things with authors - I try to read one of their more popular/highly rated books first and add on others to my TBR if I like their writing style! For some reason I have The Last Empress on my bookshelf at home, but I think it's the second book after Empress Orchid.

Thank you so much for the recommendation - I added The Pure Land to my TBR! It'll be at the top of my reading list. It looks to be right up my alley as my family and I are moving to Japan in 7 weeks! I'm fascinated by Asian history and culture, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it as we live and travel there.

Chrissie WOW Wendy - oh I envy you! I adore Japan. Where will you be living? How long will you be there? Maybe we should be friends?! Please tell me more! You simply must check out my Japan shelf. I rally want to read Memories of Silk and Straw: A Self-Portrait of Small-Town Japan but I cannot get ahold of it...... I suggest you add it to your list! It looks really fabulous. I am NOT into short stories but this I have to read. Someday! I have asked Book Depository to tell me when it arrives. Book Depository is s-u-p-e-r!!!!

Wendy How wonderful! Thank you for the book suggestions and I will definitely be scouring your Japan shelf, Chrissie! I sent you a friend request so we can stay in touch.
I'll have to check out Book Depository. I am concerned about the availability of English-language books while we're overseas. We are going to Okinawa and will be there for 2 years.

message 12: by Lee (new)

Lee Yay, I love it when two of my friends meet and get together! Super duper!

Chrissie Lee - tell Wendy how good Book Depository is :0)! It is soooooo good! But Wendy make sure you get the cheapest edition of a book by looking at all the books by a given author, that way you see all the different alternatives for a particular book. Sometimes the cheapest alternative is NOT the one that appears first. Lee, and thank you for making it possible to know Wendy. You will not believe this Lee! Do you know why Virginie and I have so similar tastes? We are born on the same day, but of course not the same year.

message 14: by Lee (new)

Lee Wow, that's so neat about you and Virginie! You must pm me and tell me your birthday!
I will make sure Wendy knows about the Book Depository. I will check and see if they have free shipping to Japan.

message 15: by Chrissie (last edited Apr 22, 2010 11:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Lee, my b-day is on my profile. Doesn't Book Depository go anywhere in the world? I think the shipping is free anywhere. I told her about it here in this thread, but I thought you too could tell her how much you like it.

Wendy I'm going to check out Book Depository now......and thanks for feeding my addiction, gals!

message 17: by Lee (new)

Lee They don't ship free to every country. You have to pay for some. I checked because I wanted to order a book and have it shipped to someone but the country wasn't on the free list.

Wendy, you will love the BD!

Wendy yay! Japan is listed as one of the countries that they ship to for free so I'll be able to order books. They have good prices too!

message 19: by Lee (new)

Lee Great news Wendy!

Chrissie Wendy, also you must, absolutely must, read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Also do not miss Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet. I put books on the "country shelves" of where they take place. Unwanted is great and it is a memoir taking place in Vietnam.

I have never been in Okinawa. Wait till you see the Japanese gardens and the art museums. Please let me know if a particular books becomes popular in Japan - perhaps ith will be translated. I would adore to read more historical fiction taking place in Japan.

Also check out The King's Last Song. This one takes place in Cambodia! Historical fiction.

message 21: by Lee (new)

Lee Wendy, I second Chrissie's recommendation of Wild Swans. It's excellent.

Chrissie If you are going to recommend one book about China - Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China would be the one. And Wendy , just so that you know, I do not throw stars onto books. Any book of my books with three stars is definitely worth reading!

Wendy I've had Wild Swans on my TBR and since you both give it 2 thumbs up I'm going to have to put it on my "priority" list! I read Sky Burial already and thought it was fantastic. What a beautiful story of love and determination! I've also added the other 2 to my TBR - I just love stories from all parts of Asia.
It's hard to believe that 2 months from now we will be living in Japan! I can't wait to see the gardens and all the temples. I am going to soak up as much of the language, culture and people that I can while we're there. It's really the opportunity of a lifetime and I plan to take full advantage of it all!

message 24: by Lee (new)

Lee Sky Burial sounds good. Is that the one set in Tibet?

Wendy Yes it is, Lee. It's a really quick read too. A short novel that I was able to read in a day. Definitely put that on your TBR list!

message 26: by Lee (new)

Lee Okey dokey, it might already be there. I'll go check.

Chrissie Oh Wendy, moving is quite hard but you get so many wonderful experiences.

Lee, Sky Burial is by Xinran, I am sure you have one of her books on your mountain.... Very good book.

Wendy I love the new experiences moving brings, but it's always so hard to say goodbye to friends. We move every 2 years and it doesn't get any easier. But, someday, we'll be able to settle in a place we'll call "home" and I'll look back fondly on these years of meeting new people and places!

Chrissie Exactly!

message 30: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Chrisse, Very helpful review. (I am so behind with emails, including before and after this day's!)

message 31: by Chrissie (last edited Apr 30, 2010 09:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Lisa, with me a three star book should not be shied away from, but I have to explain what was lacking/ irritating. Glad it helped!

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