15 Apr / Pearl of China by Anchee Min [in Library Journal]
Min opens her latest with guilty sobs recalling her “brainwashed” teenaged self in 1970s China, when she was forced to denounce Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning writer Pearl S. Buck to Madame Mao. That guilt clearly drove Min (Red Azalea) to write this “based on the life of Pearl S. Buck” novel about a fictional friendship between Buck and her Chinese best friend, Willow. Unfortunately, by book’s end readers are left with little more than caricatures of a Chinese Saint Pearl and her long-suffering sidekick, both ultimately victims of the easily vilified Madame Mao. Buck and Willow bond as turn-of-the-century girls, and Min uses their lifelong relationship to chart China’s tumultuous history.
Verdict: A novel about Buck could have been interesting, but this one is marred by insipid dialog (Buck’s husband should be more understanding because of his Cornell degree, her would-be lover wants to know if she “love[s] like a Chinese woman”), jolting gaps (Buck’s adopted daughter, Janice, disappears after one mention), and apocryphal pronouncements (Buck apologizes via “Voice of America” for casting Western actors in Hollywood’s whitewashed version of The Good Earth). Buck’s story deserves better. With two autobiographies and 80-plus titles to choose from, readers can easily access Buck directly.