PEARL S. BUCK by Peter Conn


A Cultural Biography
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 With The Good Earth author's visibility almost as low as when she was a missionary wife in China, Conn's biography tries to refocus on her role as an outspoken critic of imperialism, and as a supporter of feminism and racial equality. Although Buck was a Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinning novelist- -one who can claim credit for the first popular, realistic portrayals of China in America--her reputation suffered a swift decline after her death. An evaluative biography is overdue, but Conn's academic work seems an uncomfortable mix, part history primer, part summary survey of Buck's life. Its portrait of Buck is less detailed--and less engaging--than that to be found in her biographies of her evangelical missionary parents or in her own memoirs. Conn (English/Univ. of Pennsylvania) has gathered a great deal of information about China in the 19th and early 20th centuries, tracing its history from the Boxer Rebellion up to the Chinese civil war. He tries to place Buck's lonely childhood in China with her Calvinist father and homesick mother, her bicultural education, and her frustrated marriage to a hardworking but distant agricultural expert and missionary within the larger context of events in China--but he fails to integrate the two levels of narrative. When her second novel, The Good Earth, brought her sudden, skyrocketing fame, she settled in America, only to find her rosy expatriate patriotism at odds with native jingoism, racism, and sexism. For the rest of her career, while she continued to churn out novels, she also became an outspoken critic of American foreign policy and segregation, a supporter of women's rights, and a promoter of international/interracial adoption, facts just as dimmed now as her literary status. Conn's fact-filled book goes some way to resuscitate Buck's career and strong opinions, but Buck herself remains a shadowy figure. (41 photos, map, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-521-56080-2
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Cambridge Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1996


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