Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review of Pearl of China by Anchee Min

Anchee Min's recent novel, Pearl of China, comes out today! I was fortunate to receive a review copy from Leila and Bloomsbury.

Pearl of China: A Novel
The blurb:
In the small southern China town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the nineteenth century, two young girls bump heads and become thick as thieves. Willow is the only child of a destitute family. Pearl is the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries. She will grow up to become Pearl S. Buck, the Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist, but for now she is just a girl embarrassed by her blonde hair and enchanted by her new Chinese friend.

Moving out into the world together, the two enter the intellectual fray, confide their beliefs and dreams, and experience love and motherhood. But these are times of great tumult. When a bloody civil war erupts, Pearl is forced to flee the country ahead of angry mobs. Willow remains loyal to her exiled friend, but under Mao's repressive new regime, her "imperialist" ties jeopardize both her husband's career and her own safety. Worlds apart, the women's lives remain entwined.

Ambitious and deeply moving, Anchee Min's stunning novel Pearl of China celebrates an incredible friendship and brings new color to the life of Pearl S. Buck, a woman whose unwavering lover for the country of her youth eventually led her to be hailed as a national heroine in China.

I was very excited at the chance to review Anchee Min's Pearl of China. I have an uncle who would carefully select books for me. When I was in fifth grade, he introduced me to Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. The Good Earth was the first grown up book that I read; the story was so absorbing and sad that it stayed with me for a long time. It was The Good Earth that sparked my interest in China.

In Pearl of China, Anchee Min introduces Pearl S. Buck at a young age. We meet Pearl as a young girl as she befriends Willow, a young Chinese girl. Pearl Sydenstricker is the daughter of American missionaries stationed in Chin-kiang, a small town south of the Yangtze River. The villagers are not interested in converting but they're drawn to the Sydenstrickers because of the food, medicine and music that they offer.

Pearl and Willow's friendship gets off on a rocky start but they quickly become inseparable. Curious, active, and high spirited girls, Pearl and Willow get into all sorts of adventures. They lived under the Qing Dynasty and survived the Boxer Rebellion in relative innocence until the Sydenstrickers were forced to retreat to Shanghai. After this separation and by the time that they're 14, Pearl and Willow's lives take very different directions. Pearl is in a missionary middle school in Shanghai while Willow is engaged to a wealthy older man.

Though the friends live very different lives, they make a point of seeing each other and remain very close friends. This friendship continues even after Pearl moves to the United States for college. When Pearl and her husband return to China years later, Pearl confides the details of her life to Willow. Willow shares her own life's disappointments and the women continue to find strength in their friendship - even years later when Pearl is forced to leave China and their letters are censored.

Violence explodes in China and the country undergoes momentous changes from the Japanese occupation to Nationalist control to the eventual victory of Mao and the Communist Party. Like everyone around them, Pearl and Willow find their lives changed. Pearl moves to the United States and she is recognized worldwide for her writing with the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Willow's husband becomes one of Mao's trusted advisers but as her friendship remains a source of strength it also becomes a political liability for Willow.

Pearl of China is as much a story of loyalty and friendship in historic times as it is the story of Pearl S. Buck as a woman of China and a dedicated and gifted writer. I found Pearl of China moving and inspiring - a glimpse into the life of one of the most interesting people of the 20th century.

ISBN-10: 1596916974 - Hardcover $24.00
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (March 30, 2010), 288 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author, courtesy of Amazon:
Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. During the Cultural Revolution, she was ordered to denounce Pearl S. Buck as an American imperialist. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress in propoganda films. She came to the United States in 1984 with the help of actress Joan Chen. Her memoir, Red Azalea, was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of 1994 and was an international bestseller, with rights sold in twenty countries. Her novels Becoming Madame Mao and Empress Orchid were published to critical acclaim and were national bestsellers. Her two other novels, Katherine and Wild Ginger, were published to wonderful reviews and impressive foreign sales. Learn more on Anchee Min's website at

Anchee Min's is starting her national tour on April 5. Check out if she's coming to your town here. Here's a short list of events - but there are many more on her website.

4/19 - Washington D.C.: Politics & Prose - reading at 7 pm
4/20 - Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Free Library - a reading at 7:30 pm
4/21 - Boston, MA: Boston Public Library - a reading at 6 pm
4/22 - New York, NY: Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side - a reading at 7 pm
4/23 - New York, NY: Asian American Writers' Workshop - luncheon at 12 noon
4/24-4/25 - Los Angeles, CA: LA Times Festival of Books
4/26 - Iowa City, IA: Prairie Lights - a reading at 5 pm
4/27 - Chicago, IL: Bookstall at Chestnut Court - a reading at 7 pm
4/28 - Denver, CO: Tattered Cover - a reading at 7:30 pm
4/29 - Minneapolis, MN: Minneapolis Central Library at 7 pm
5/5 - Austin, TX: Bookpeople - a reading at 7 pm
5/6 - 5/7 - Houston, TX: Asia Society

Thank you so much Leila and Bloomsbury for this review opportunity!


  1. I really want to read this book. I adore stories about writers, and this one looks especially good. I'm so glad to hear you liked it!

  2. I've been thinking about giving this one a try. Thanks for the review!

  3. I really, really, really want to read this book. I've not read any Pearl Buck (yet), but I'm with nomadreader: I love books about authors!

  4. Came over from Cym Lowell's McLinky links for Book Review Party Wednesday (BRPW).

    Historical fiction is not my cup of tea, but this book looks like a good read even to non-historical fiction readers like me.

    Cherry Mischievous