Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Fanny Butcher

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 720 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Fanny Butcher

SOURCE: "Pearl Buck's New Novel a Tour de Force," in Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine of Books, May 3, 1959, p. 1.

In the following review, Butcher calls Buck's Command the Morning "one of the most memorable and rewarding reading experiences of our day."

The title of this commanding novel [Command the Morning] by our country's first woman to receive the Nobel award in literature, comes from the Bible: "The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said … 'Hast thou commanded the morning?'" The question implied in these unforgettable pages is one which every thinking human being must be asking: Did the discovery of atomic power command the morning or the night of mankind?

This is a novel about the most past-shattering and future-building period of modern times, the months of secret research which culminated in the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Were those months to destroy or to free mankind? That is the question posed here.

Pearl Buck does not offer the answer. What she does is to tell the story of those momentous days in terms of the scientists through whose brains, whose chemical retorts, and whose hearts the world has changed. One of them, the only woman in a key position in the project, was uncompromisingly opposed to the use of atomic power as a weapon—ever. One young scientist, who was as violently in opposition to its use as she, changed his mind when he was convinced that the evolvement of such a weapon was inevitable and could have been used for, not against, Hitler.

There are real people in Command the Morning. The great Enrico Fermi appears often. The hero of the book, the scientist who had over-all charge of the entire project, is on first name terms with Washington personalities, including Vice President "Harry" and "the Chief." Real places come alive—Oak Ridge and Los Alamos from their beginnings, and that fantastic spot under a University of Chicago football stadium where the tensest of all of the moments took place, when it was found that chain reaction could be controlled and, therefore, the world-shattering power could be used.

The author's finest powers of giving intimacy to reality are evident here. Never has she had a more difficult task or a more momentous one. To most of her readers the secret of the atom will still remain esoteric despite her simplified explanations of the sciences involved. For, let's face it, how many casual readers know or can understand even the basic principles of fission? However, everyone will leave the book with a mind sharpened to the future, with the question plaguing him: Shall it be the annihilation of man or a better life for all mankind?

The story of the epochal discovery is told as a great novelist always records fact, in terms of human beings. Command the Morning is a magnificent fictional history of the days which could preface a new morning for the world, but it is primarily a story of men and women. It is, too, a subtle explanation of the power of creative work in men's lives. These creators were scientists, but what Miss Buck has written is true also of writers, musicians, painters, anyone dedicated to the thing he is creating. Creators really live, in the truest sense of that word, within the walls of their art or their science. They may find love, companionship, stimulation, even a kind of understanding, in those who don't know what they are talking about. But with those who do there is a tie, no matter how tenuous, which is essentially the nourishment of the soul.

Already, as the book ends, the characters feel their day is past. "The kids of today have their sights on soaring off into space," one says, just as "the kids" of the beginnings of the atomic age had theirs on harnessing the atom. "Space travel is the coming thing," is said to one of the head nuclear scientists. "It'll keep us too busy to think about wars maybe. I'll say this for the big blast you men made in the desert—it's sent us ahead a thousand years."

Command the Morning is no quick and easy book to read. It must have been a terrific one to write. But it is one of the most memorable and rewarding reading experiences of our day.

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This section contains 720 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Fanny Butcher
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