Preface: Rediscovering Pearl Buck; 1. Missionary childhood; 2. New worlds; 3. Winds of change; 4. The Good Earth; 5. An exile's return; 6. The prize; 7. Wartime; 8. Losing battles; 9. Pearl Sydenstricker.
'An elegant, absorbing book.' Washington Post
In this brilliantly conceived biography, Conn, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, sets out to reconstruct Buck's life, her extraordinary commitment to social justice and her literary achievement. To her many (primarily male) critics, Buck was an overrated storyteller whose best-selling portrayals of Chinese peasants struggling in a land on the brink of revolution in no way merited the Pulitzer or Nobel prizes. Time and the reading public seem to have agreed, as only The Good Earth survives‘principally as a late-night movie classic. Born in West Virginia in 1892 to Protestant missionary parents, Pearl Sydenstricker spent almost all of her first 40 years in China. Although she was bilingual, she felt an outsider in both countries, and Conn speculates that her experiences in China's white minority led to a lifelong advocacy of interracial understanding. She went to college in the U.S., but returned to China, where she married her first husband, J. Lossing Buck, and gave birth to her only child, who suffered from phenylketonuria (PKU). Then, in 1934, faced with the Japanese invasion, civil tensions and escalating anti-foreigner sentiment, the Bucks returned to the U.S. As her literary works slipped into obscurity, Buck spent the decades until her death in 1973 devoting herself to issues of interracial conflict, immigration and the adoption of disadvantaged children, eventually establishing Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. Perhaps Buck's fortunes have finally turned, for she has been singularly lucky in her biographer. Drawing on Buck's own words and actions, Conn steers a sympathetic yet intelligently balanced course, revealing in fascinating detail the gripping life story of a compelling woman. Photos. (Oct.)
'A fascinating book and one that is, for all its scholarly apparatus and methodical presentation of data, as much of a page turner as anything Buck ever wrote ... Peter Conn's biography is an indispensable resource.' New York Times Book Review 'Peter Conn, Buck's biographer, has done an amazing job of reminding us about Pearl Buck, and about our own recent past. Conn came to this project not through her books ... but through one of Buck's agencies. He's responded, paid his debt, with almost Chinese filial piety, in writing this elegant, absorbing book.' Washington Post 'Expertly written, not only a biography but as political history as well.' Library Journal 'With straightforward prose and balanced assessment of her accomplishments, Conn convinces us that Pearl Buck was a great person indeed.' Booklist '[T]his brilliantly conceived biography steers a sympathetic yet intelligently balanced course, revealing in fascinating detail the gripping life story of a compelling woman.' Publishers Weekly
Buck (1892-1973) knew the costs of cultural practices that oppress. A child of evangelical Protestant missionaries in China, she witnessed her father's accepted oppression of her mother via the Chinese caste system that trapped girls and women. Buck, who always considered herself an outsider, carried these thoughts with her when she left China to study in America. Later, her efforts on behalf of sexual and racial equality, religious diversity, world peace, birth control, interracial adoption, and humane treatment of handicapped people (her daughter Carol was retarded) fueled her personal autonomy and her prodigious output as a writer of fiction and nonfiction. The Good Earth (1931) brought her great popularity and the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1938 she won the Nobel. Aware that Buck's writing has fallen out of fashion, Conn (Literature in America, LJ 7/89) believes and proves that Buck helped enormously in forging an understanding of American and Chinese culture and deserves a place in American letters by virtue of her humanitarian work. His book is expertly written, not only as a biography but also as a political history. Highly recommended.‘Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., Ind.