“Pearl of China” by Anchee Min

**post by nichan**

Today I went to the library for the first time in a million years, and while randomly grabbing books off of the shelves, I stumbled over Pearl of China by Anchee Min. I’m not a huge fan of Min’s, but somehow it’d seemed like I’d read every book she’s written except that one… So into the pile it went. And, um… Now I’ve read it. Yup. The entire thing in one shot. Just sat down, opened it up, and gobbled it down.

book cover(By the way, I just checked: I’d read all but two of her books. One left to go, I guess!)

Anchee Min tends to write fictionalized accounts of real things; she’ll take an historical character and cough up a whole novel on what might have happened. And, in this case, she decided to tackle the story of my favorite author: Pearl S. Buck. …So you can see why I picked it up.

Pearl S. Buck, as I’ve previously mentioned, was a rather productive author who grew up in China in the first portion of the 20th century before being forced to flee to America as chaos took over the mainland. Pearl of China tells a possible version of her life from the Chinese perspective as narrated by her made-up, lifelong friend, Willow. Willow tells not only of her life with Pearl, but also of the Communist takeover, the Cultural Revolution, and even the gradual opening of China in the late 70s and early 80s. There are some wildly unbelievable plot twists and turns that occur, but not being privy to Min’s research, who am I to say they’re totally made up? Maybe things just happened to fall into place like that.

Anyway…!

What I liked about the book was the history. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I loves me a book about Communist China. This story covers the before, during, and after of the worst of it, told from a surprising angle: Christians just trying to get by. Willow converts early through an odd series of events, and her faith grows, even though she eventually marries one of Mao Tse Tung’s close comrades. Her life takes her from a hovel to a cave to a palace to a prison to a commune to an apartment. She interacts with a handful of important players, including an American president. Her entire story is pretty much too absurd to buy into, but other novels about the same period of history suggest it is plausible. …Plausible at least as far as fiction writers are concerned, anyway.

What I didn’t like about it was Min’s writing style. It starts out just utterly awful: choppy and repetitive. Thankfully it gets better, almost as though she was working her way into it. Eventually it even becomes tolerable, and by then you’re slamming through it at full speed. …But, yeah: there’s a reason this book only took me about three hours to get through.

So! Would I suggest Pearl of China? …Maybe not. It’s not really the strongest, most interesting, best written book I’ve ever come across about China. …On the other hand, it only took me three hours to read. If you need to slam out a book report at the last minute or something, this thing could probably come in handy.

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