Book Review - Pearl of China

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Pearl of China (Bloomsbury)

Pearl of China  is the latest offering from Anchee Min, the critically acclaimed author of Empress Orchid (2004), The Last Empress (2007), and her own memoir, Red Azalea (1994). Pearl of China is a tribute to Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning American author best known for the novel The Good Earth and her humanitarian work.

Pearl of China is about the (fictional) relationship between Pearl Buck and a Chinese girl named Willow Yee – the narrator. Willow is a poor girl, living with her father and grandmother in the Jiangsu province of China, who becomes a thief and a beggar at a young age so that she and her family can eat. One day, while trying to steal a Christian missionary’s wallet, Willow gets caught by his daughter, Pearl. From then onward, their lives become enmeshed in ways that neither could have imagined.

After overcoming numerous tragedies, Pearl becomes an activist and a famous author, while Willow struggles under Mao’s communist regime. The novel traces the complicated and inspiring lifelong relationship between Willow and Pearl as they share their joys and suffer oppression and abuse while being pulled apart by forces beyond their control.

Written in a vivid manner, with close attention to detail, Pearl of China is a heartfelt and touching account of a breathtaking journey. The manner of storytelling might occasionally seem distant and scattered, but that does not take away from what is otherwise a marvellously written novel. Pearl of China has all the makings of a classic and it is evident from the novel that Min feels a deep spiritual connection with Buck.

With Pearl of China, Min proves once again that she is an excellent raconteur, adept at the art of infusing historical events with a lyrical quality and personal emotions that transport you to another era. Pearl of China can be seen as an account of China’s tumultuous yet fascinating past; but at its heart, it is a saga of an imperfect but beautiful relationship between two women who helped each other overcome insurmountable odds.


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