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Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography

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Pearl S. Buck was one of the most renowned, interesting, and controversial figures ever to influence American and Chinese cultural and literary history--and yet she remains one of the least studied, honored, or remembered. In this richly illustrated and meticulously crafted narrative, Conn recounts Buck's life in absorbing detail, tracing the parallel course of American an Pearl S. Buck was one of the most renowned, interesting, and controversial figures ever to influence American and Chinese cultural and literary history--and yet she remains one of the least studied, honored, or remembered. In this richly illustrated and meticulously crafted narrative, Conn recounts Buck's life in absorbing detail, tracing the parallel course of American and Chinese history. This cultural biography thus offers a dual portrait: of Buck, a figure greater than history cares to remember, and of the era she helped to shape.


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Pearl S. Buck was one of the most renowned, interesting, and controversial figures ever to influence American and Chinese cultural and literary history--and yet she remains one of the least studied, honored, or remembered. In this richly illustrated and meticulously crafted narrative, Conn recounts Buck's life in absorbing detail, tracing the parallel course of American an Pearl S. Buck was one of the most renowned, interesting, and controversial figures ever to influence American and Chinese cultural and literary history--and yet she remains one of the least studied, honored, or remembered. In this richly illustrated and meticulously crafted narrative, Conn recounts Buck's life in absorbing detail, tracing the parallel course of American and Chinese history. This cultural biography thus offers a dual portrait: of Buck, a figure greater than history cares to remember, and of the era she helped to shape.

30 review for Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    One of the key ingredients of a biography is not only to tell the subject’s life, but to capture the spirit of the era they lived through. There is no doubt that this book accomplishes this undertaking and is an overwhelming success. Pearl Buck lived during tumultuous times, particularly during the first forty years of her life, where for most part she resided in China. Although she was born in the U.S. in 1892, her parents took her to China after a few months to continue their missionary work. As One of the key ingredients of a biography is not only to tell the subject’s life, but to capture the spirit of the era they lived through. There is no doubt that this book accomplishes this undertaking and is an overwhelming success. Pearl Buck lived during tumultuous times, particularly during the first forty years of her life, where for most part she resided in China. Although she was born in the U.S. in 1892, her parents took her to China after a few months to continue their missionary work. Aside from attending college in the U.S., she lived in various cities and communities in China until 1934. During this time China was in a constant state of upheaval – with warfare (territorial wars and communists versus government), famine, and extreme poverty surrounding her daily existence. Although she spoke and wrote Chinese fluently (the author does not tell us which dialect), she was never able to fit in – and experienced the same outsider status when she relocated to the United States. In her personal life she witnessed the complete subjugation of her mother to her father’s fire and brimstone fundamentalist take on Christianity. She became not only conscious of his intense misogyny, but also that of Chinese society where, for example, there was infanticide of female babies and foot-binding of girls. She started writing in her late thirties – and with her second book “The Good Earth” she vaulted from obscurity to fame – and fortune. “The Good Earth” was (to simplify) about Chinese peasants living their daily lives and overcoming their many obstacles. Most of her subsequent books, which also sold well, were about China. She humanized the downtrodden. Her books were translated into several languages. She also put China onto the U.S. map due to the very wide circulation of “The Good Earth”. This became very significant with the later Japanese invasion of China proper which outraged many in the U.S. After World War II, Pearl Buck became involved in many causes like racial equality and the fight for the equality of women. Unlike her parents she gave up on organized religion and adopted a very secular outlook. Pearl Buck was not one to take half measures – and she often irritated those who joined her many causes; she was abrasive. One group she formed was for the adoption of racially mixed children left by American soldiers in Japan, South Korea, and later Vietnam. These children were outcasts in their country of birth – and due to the efforts of the foundation that Pearl Buck started, at least some found receptive homes in the United States. Just a few more notes: Pearl Buck, due to her involvement and writings on China, racial equality... generated a huge F.B.I. file. Once more we see how the resources of this nefarious organization were being used. Her stories and characters were straight-forward. She won the Nobel Prize for literature and the Pulitzer Prize. Many in the “literary vanguard” felt she did not deserve this adulation. The “literary vanguard” feels that literature should not be popular, should be entirely introspective and never appeal to a mass public audience. This is a wonderful biography.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Phoenix

    What a treat to read the biography of my all-time favorite author. When I went to China i was going to "Pearl Buck's China," having fantasized about it for years through the vivid scenes painted for me in her novels. Her activism and advocacy came through loud and clear in the subject matter she tackled in her books. Her motives became even more clear after reading her biography, however. This is a biography I will re-read several times so that I don't forget any of it. Pearl is probably the wom What a treat to read the biography of my all-time favorite author. When I went to China i was going to "Pearl Buck's China," having fantasized about it for years through the vivid scenes painted for me in her novels. Her activism and advocacy came through loud and clear in the subject matter she tackled in her books. Her motives became even more clear after reading her biography, however. This is a biography I will re-read several times so that I don't forget any of it. Pearl is probably the woman I admire most. Notably she did not start writing until her 30s- there is still hope for me. She had many relationships, not all of them conventional. She suffered tragedies and sadness, and she spoke out for the underprivileged, and she left behind a legacy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carole

    This is a well written and thoroughly researched biography of this remarkable person. I knew little about her, other than The Good Earth and a somewhat controversial Nobel prize. Conn does a good job in presenting this full and complicated life. I was impressed by her strong commitment to racial equality, women's rights and social justice, issues that are current in today's headlines. She was ahead of her time, outspoken, and tireless in her pursuits. Conn explains her social energy as a reactio This is a well written and thoroughly researched biography of this remarkable person. I knew little about her, other than The Good Earth and a somewhat controversial Nobel prize. Conn does a good job in presenting this full and complicated life. I was impressed by her strong commitment to racial equality, women's rights and social justice, issues that are current in today's headlines. She was ahead of her time, outspoken, and tireless in her pursuits. Conn explains her social energy as a reaction to her narrow minded, self absorbed and inflexible missionary father. It is a fact based biography, well illustrated and documented, worthy of this notable woman.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jane Mettee

    I have long been a fan of Pearl Bucks novels. This biography is written by Peter Conn a long time professor of English at University of Pennsylvania. Pearl Buck’s home and headquarters for her many humanitarian activities in the US is also in Pennsylvania. This is an extremely well researched biography of Pearl Buck who was not only a well known author but a humanitarian who launched several programs in the US and Asian countries to assist with children and women’s issues, adoption and civil rig I have long been a fan of Pearl Bucks novels. This biography is written by Peter Conn a long time professor of English at University of Pennsylvania. Pearl Buck’s home and headquarters for her many humanitarian activities in the US is also in Pennsylvania. This is an extremely well researched biography of Pearl Buck who was not only a well known author but a humanitarian who launched several programs in the US and Asian countries to assist with children and women’s issues, adoption and civil rights. She received both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for her writing. She started the first interracial adoption agency in the US and adopted several children herself. I read her memoir My Several Worlds. She reported on what was going on around her in China were she was raised and had lived much of her life. Also on her culture shock when moving to the US after about 40 years in China. She reported modestly on her work but very little on her personal life. I enjoyed filling in the blanks with this biography which had a surprising ending. This is women’s history at its best. There are over 80 pages of notes and index for anyone wanting to do some serious study.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    The author has done the reading public a favor with this biography.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gerri Bauer

    Pearl S. Buck deserves to be rediscovered.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen Quevillon

    I found this a fascinating look at an author I knew very little about until now. The Good Earth stunned me when I read it as a teen, and still took my breath away decades later. Pearl's missionary family, her unique upbringing in China and her later life acclimatizing to the United States, her unhappy marriage and her personal transformation through writing, publication, acclaim, remarriage--all made for a compelling journey. Especially if you are a woman and writer, Pearl's challenges and accom I found this a fascinating look at an author I knew very little about until now. The Good Earth stunned me when I read it as a teen, and still took my breath away decades later. Pearl's missionary family, her unique upbringing in China and her later life acclimatizing to the United States, her unhappy marriage and her personal transformation through writing, publication, acclaim, remarriage--all made for a compelling journey. Especially if you are a woman and writer, Pearl's challenges and accomplishments may resonate with you and perhaps inspire you. Conn provides here, I think, a balanced and insightful account. The inter-cultural dilemmas and dynamics were entirely thought-provoking. Worth reading!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Virginia

    Very detailed story of Pearl Buck. I hadn't known how broad her career had been, and what a strong influence she had on our ideas of China. I intend to re-read many of her novels, so I can appreciate them more. Very detailed story of Pearl Buck. I hadn't known how broad her career had been, and what a strong influence she had on our ideas of China. I intend to re-read many of her novels, so I can appreciate them more.

  9. 4 out of 5

    SaraB

    Very interesting, explains very well her awful vision of humans in most of her books, even though sadly she ended up repeating some of the mistakes she depicts.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I read The Good Earth in high school, and thus began my fascination with China. I read most of Buck's books and her autobiography. While I recognized she was not the greatest writer, she still opened whole new worlds to me. "My Several Worlds" (her autobiography) is fascinating. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian missionaries, traveled to China soon after their marriage in 1880, but returned to the United States for Pearl's birth. When Pearl was three months old, the family returned to China. He I read The Good Earth in high school, and thus began my fascination with China. I read most of Buck's books and her autobiography. While I recognized she was not the greatest writer, she still opened whole new worlds to me. "My Several Worlds" (her autobiography) is fascinating. Her parents, Southern Presbyterian missionaries, traveled to China soon after their marriage in 1880, but returned to the United States for Pearl's birth. When Pearl was three months old, the family returned to China. Here is this girl, who speaks Chinese better than English, has her own Mandarin tutor and amah, and knows more about Chinese cultures than most of America in the early 1900s. What I didn't know was how much of an advocate Buck was for women, blacks and Amerasian children. What I also didn't know was that, like many aging women, she fell prey to a younger man who was a dishonest opportunist. What I remember well, personally, was that, during the Cultural Revolution, Buck, as a preeminent American writer of Chinese village life, was denounced as an "American cultural imperialist." Buck was "heartbroken" when she was prevented from visiting China with Richard Nixon in 1972. If you are interested in Pearl Buck, you could get by on a less erudite,intensive biography than this. In 1949, outraged that existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children unadoptable, Buck established Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. In nearly five decades of work, Welcome House has placed over five thousand children. One of the children was the author's daughter. Note: I cut and pasted a few sentences from Wikipedia in my review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    MaryBliss

    Well written, well researched, accessible. I particularly appreciated Conn's knowledge of Pearl Buck's written works; her novels, essays and speeches and the way he was able to directly relate the former to Buck's unfolding life experience as they were written and published. The index could have been better and the book lacked a chronology of works published that would have been helpful to refer to. Those are my only complaints and keep me from making this a 5 star book. Highly recommended. Well written, well researched, accessible. I particularly appreciated Conn's knowledge of Pearl Buck's written works; her novels, essays and speeches and the way he was able to directly relate the former to Buck's unfolding life experience as they were written and published. The index could have been better and the book lacked a chronology of works published that would have been helpful to refer to. Those are my only complaints and keep me from making this a 5 star book. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    When I read The Good Earth, I became fascinated with Pearl Buck and eager to read her memoir. It wasn't offered at my library, so I opted to read her biography instead. This is an excellent one, although I was more intereste in her personal life and childhood than I was about anything else. This book is focused on her professional life and how historical events affected her. There's also a great deal of information about her books. When I read The Good Earth, I became fascinated with Pearl Buck and eager to read her memoir. It wasn't offered at my library, so I opted to read her biography instead. This is an excellent one, although I was more intereste in her personal life and childhood than I was about anything else. This book is focused on her professional life and how historical events affected her. There's also a great deal of information about her books.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Fantastic book! Very readable account of Pearl's lifetime. I learned a lot about China, missionaries, the McCarthy era, the stigma of having a mentally disabled child, the history of mixed race prejudice/adoption. She was an amazing woman, who has been somewhat forgotten in recent times. Fantastic book! Very readable account of Pearl's lifetime. I learned a lot about China, missionaries, the McCarthy era, the stigma of having a mentally disabled child, the history of mixed race prejudice/adoption. She was an amazing woman, who has been somewhat forgotten in recent times.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amie

    Wonderful to read about a life well-lived and purposes well-served. My favorite parts are when she writes about her children and motherhood in general. I've enjoyed all of her books I've read and I loved to read about who she was and about her life growing up in China. Wonderful to read about a life well-lived and purposes well-served. My favorite parts are when she writes about her children and motherhood in general. I've enjoyed all of her books I've read and I loved to read about who she was and about her life growing up in China.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This woman's life is so much more complex and interesting than one might think. A pioneer in women's rights, understanding China and caring the handicapped, Pearl Buck should not be forgotten. This well-written biography deserves wider distribution. This woman's life is so much more complex and interesting than one might think. A pioneer in women's rights, understanding China and caring the handicapped, Pearl Buck should not be forgotten. This well-written biography deserves wider distribution.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Savannah

    I haven't been reading this book for long, but i have learned that Pearl's parents were missionaries in china. Pearl doesn't have a very good realationship with her father and four of her siblings have died. I haven't been reading this book for long, but i have learned that Pearl's parents were missionaries in china. Pearl doesn't have a very good realationship with her father and four of her siblings have died.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Pam Kellim

    What a wonderful book. The title is right on. You get a window on the culture of china and the US during pearls life. So, informative and interesting. I want to read everything she ever wrote. YOU MUST READ THIS WONDERFUL BIO] IF YOU LOVE PEARL S BUCK

  18. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Quinn

  21. 4 out of 5

    Isabelle

  22. 5 out of 5

    Angelam

  23. 4 out of 5

    Verna Schwartz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie Smith

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jill Stafford

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janet

  28. 4 out of 5

    Neal

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elana Rosen-Brown

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