Review: Pearl of China (Anchee Min)

Pearl of ChinaGoodreads Summary: It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.

Pearl is head-strong, independent and fiercely intelligent, and will grow up to be Pearl S Buck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning writer and humanitarian activist, but for now all Willow knows is that she has never met anyone like her in all her life. From the start the two are thick as thieves, but when the Boxer Rebellion rocks the nation, Pearl’s family is forced to leave China to flee religious persecution. As the twentieth century unfolds in all its turmoil, through right-wing military coups and Mao’s Red Revolution, through bad marriages and broken dreams, the two girls cling to their lifelong friendship across the sea.

In this ambitious and moving new novel, Anchee Min, acclaimed author of Empress Orchid and Red Azalea, brings to life a courageous and passionate woman who loved the country of her childhood and who has been hailed in China as a modern heroine.

My Thoughts: Pearl of China is a truly amazing book about friendship between different cultures. The book is based on a real story: Anchee Min describes the life of Pearl S. Bucks who grew up in China but had to leave the country as a young adult due to the political situation.

The book describes the whole life of two girls and later women who met in early childhood and had a connection throughout their whole life and even after the death of one of them even though they were not able to be together for a long time. They stayed loyal to each other no matter how much they had to suffer. They were never willing to give up their friendship – even if that would have meant their own death.

The story is beautifully written and is a fantastic combination of the typical daily problems of these women, China‘s history and religion. I am an Atheist and it is usually kind of hard for me to understand why people believe religion because it does not all make sense to me. In this respect, I tend to be more rational than emotional. But even if I cannot understand why people believe, I still accept and respect other people‘s believes. In my opinion, everybody can believe in whatever they want to believe in as long as they do not hurt others due to their believes. Excluding people just because of their believes does not seem right to me. But that is exactly what this book is about. It shows once more what happens if people believe that their religion or their way of life is the only right one and try to force their religion or life style onto others. It is sad to see that Pearl S. Buck was not allowed to live in China for more than half of her life because she did not agree with the political powers. She felt like a Chinese and had to learn how to live in America and to be American because all she knew was China. Her life and the way she tried to stay in contact with her friends and family in China impresses me. Throughout her whole life she tried to bring the American and Chinese culture together and start a dialogue between those two enemies. The story made me cry in the end because I was so touched by how beautifully the ending is written. It is a hymn to true and everlasting friendship.

Another thing that I really liked about this novel is that I learned so much about the history of China I did not know. I have never had a special interest in china or Asia in general but this story brought me so much closer to it and I am kind of curious for more. While telling the story of Pearl and her friend Willow, Anchee Min manages to explain China‘s history in full detail making it easy to understand for the reader who might not know all the historical background.

Anchee Min herself lived in China for 27 years of her life. At the end of the novel she explains that her novels are still banned in China. As a Chinese who has lived in America for most of her life, she is probably the best person to understand Pearl Buck‘s life. Through this novel, she brought China and it‘s culture much closer to me and gave me a much better understanding. She also awoke more interest into this topic and I am definitely going to read one of Pearl Buck‘s novels just to read something from the main character of the Pearl of China herself.

Thanks for this brilliant piece of literature! I truly enjoyed reading this novel and I am also really curious about the other novels by Anchee Min.

More about Anchee Min can be found here.

My Rating:  ★★★★

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