Pearl S. Buck, American Author of China
Books Published 1929 - 1941
- East Wind: West Wind (1929)
- The Good Earth (1931)
- Sons (1932)
- The Mother (1933)
- The House of Earth (1935)
- The Fighting Angel (1936)
- This Proud Heart (1938)
- The Patriot (1939)
- Portrait of a Marriage (1940)
- Dragon Seed (1941)
Among the family legacy were books from the foregoing generation--hard cover books with dried binding and yellowing pages. Among these was East Wind: West Wind, which quickly became a favorite because the mood created within its pages was very different from other popular novels of the time. Addressing the reader as "my sister," the author pulled the reader into an intimacy normally held only by a dear friend, a trusted friend with whom secrets could be shared and whose presence remained an influence forever. The author of the novel was Pearl S. Buck.
"I have a secret I can only share with you, dear sister. Only you can I confide. Deep have been the sorrows of my heart. Deep has been the longing for the washing away of these doubts, fears, and confusions which have overshadowed me. Come with me, and let me tell you my story."
Pearl was the seventh and youngest child of Caroline and Absalom Sydenstricker, who were Southern Presbyterian missionaries serving in China. The missionary parents had performed God's work twelve years before losing two sons to a tropical disease. Needing to recuperate from their losses, they returned to Hillsboro, Virginia, where Pearl was born. When the baby became three months of age, the dedicated couple obliged to continue their work in China--Absalom touring the countryside for converts, and Caroline operating her dispensary where she tended to China's needy women.
Homeschooling and a Chinese tutor became the Pearl's method of learning in Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) until she had to flee to Shanghai with her mother and siblings in 1900 due to the Boxer Rebellion, an effort by Chinese traditionalists to rid their country of all foreigners.
The modern map below shows the relationship between the cities of Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) and Shanghai along the Yangtze River.
Mrs. Sydenstricker and the children anxiously awaited news of Absalom's fate for several months, Finally, the family reunited and returned to the States.
While the parent missionaries resumed their work in China, 18-year-old Pearl attended Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she studied for four years. Shortly after graduation, she left for China in spite of her desire to stay in the U.S. because her mother had fallen ill.
In China she met her future husband, John Lossing Buck, an agricultural economist who was also doing missionary work for the Presbyterian church. Pearl served as his interpreter, and they married in 1917. Three years later the couple birthed a daughter, who unfortunately suffered from phenylketonuria (PKU), resulting in mental retardation. Pearl also had an hysterectomy relative to this birth. Desiring another child, the couple adopted another girl in 1925.
Books Published 1943-1956
- The Promise (1943)
- China Flight (1945)
- Pavilion of Women (1946)
- The Big Wave (1947)
- Peony (1948)
- Once Upon a Christmas (1950)
- Hidden Flower (1952)
- My Several Worlds (1954)
- Imperial Woman (1956)
- Death in the Castle (1956)
A Brief Overview of Her Writing
Pearl began writing essays for magazines in the 1920s. She wrote consistently and published a book, fiction and non-fiction, almost annually. The Good Earth brought her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. The book was a national best seller, topped only by Gone with the Wind.
Certainly this author's life was challenging. Her mother died in 1921. Not only had she experienced the Boxer Rebellion in her youngest years, but the Nanking Incident in 1927. Her marriage to John, too, was not the happiest, having the disabled child as they did. She divorced in 1935 and later remarried Robert Walsh, her publisher.
Those who study literature have often observed that hardship seems to result in the best writing. This seems to be the case with Ms. Buck's writing. She was a prolific writer, the first American woman to become a Nobel laureate and the fourth woman to do so. Seventy (70) published novels are credited to her life's works.
"To understand the Chinese culture, you have to understand something about the values of those people, and there is no better way to connect with the emotional life of those people than through the mastery of the timeless writings of Pearl S. Buck."
Author's Note: In spite of the watermark and length of the following video, I felt it worth including because of its historical significance.
Books Published 1957 - 1970
- Letter from Peking (1957)
- Living Reed: A Novel of Korea (1963)
- The Time is Noon (1966)
- The New Year (1968)
- The Three Daughters of Madame Liang (1969)
- Mandela: A Novel of India (1970)
Pearl's middle, birth name was "Comfort."
The author's Chinese name was "Sai Zhenzhu."
Pearl Sydenstricker Buck also used the pseudonym "John Sedges."
Author chose to keep "Buck" as her legal name after remarrying.
A Final Word
In her later years, Ms. Buck was very active in civil and women's rights, especially relevant to Asian-American relations. She founded East and West Association in 1941 and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in 1964 to address the problems of outcast Amerasian children. Her legacy continues under the auspices of the Pearl S. Buck International.
Biographical information on the Internet is extensive. The highlighted lists of her books are only partial, drawn from the lists of her most popular works. I have chosen to write about her because of the impression her book East Wind: West Wind made on me as a teenager and because of her writings in Once Upon a Christmas, an anthology of her Christmas memories and stories. Most impressive is her first story bearing the same title as the book. In her account, Ms. Buck takes in an orphaned Chinese boy. She raises him and he becomes a compassionate, dedicated doctor during the uprisings around the time of the Nanking Incident. Her concluding words of the story are as follows:
But it is not of his death that I think tonight. It is of him, as I saw him that Christmas Eve, long ago, a little child from nowhere, who came somehow to my door. ***
Of Ms. Buck's most popular books, which one are you most likely to read?
Credits and Resources
http://www.goodreads.com/author/list/704.Pearl_S_Buck?utf8=%E2%9C%93&sort=popularity (Novels by Pearl S. Buck)
http://www.biography.com/people/pearl-s-buck-9230389 (Biographical Information)
http://records.ancestry.com/Absalom_Sydenstricker_records.ashx?pid=10424665 (Family Tree of Pearl's Father)
http://faculty.randolphcollege.edu/fwebb/buck/by.html (Additional Title Lists)
http://www.english.upenn.edu/Projects/Buck/biography.html (Additional Biographical Information)
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/ (Nobel Prize Date Verification)