Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Horace Bristol

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 572 words
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Critical Review by Horace Bristol

SOURCE: "From Tea to Transistors," in Saturday Review, Vol. 49, No. 45, November 5, 1966, pp. 44, 74.

In the following review, Bristol asserts that Buck's The People of Japan is more of a sentimental look at the country than an in-depth study.

Pearl Buck unreservedly adopted China for her spiritual home when her parents, missionaries with more than a decade of experience in that sprawling, disorganized country, brought her there to live as a child. Later, when she was old enough to visit Japan, she took China's cultural offspring to her heart.

In her latest book, [The People of Japan,] a collection of memories of prewar Japan, historical facts, and more modern observations—the last based largely on a three-month tour in 1960 of Korea and Japan—Mrs. Buck takes a grandmotherly look at a country that is admittedly only a step-child: loved, but at times very naughty. It was a country, however, that sheltered her and her family from China's advancing Communism on two occasions, and, since its disastrous defeat in World War II, has reformed and renounced its reprehensible past.

Reading The People of Japan is not unlike being in a window-seat of the world's fastest and perhaps finest express train—the "Hikari" or "Light"—and watching the passing scene at 150-plus miles per hour. The verdant, ageless farms with their quaint little thatched-roofed houses flash by, almost too fast, to observe the kimono- or "mompe"-clad farm women—stooped and bent as they patiently plant each rice shoot in minuscule paddy fields—suddenly give way to a dazzling complex of immaculate white ferro-concrete factories, whose automated assembly lines turn out millions of transistors, TV sets, and sophisticated computers for both the domestic and foreign markets. Disembodied, modern-day industrial Taj Mahals, apparently floating in the center of rice fields, they represent graphically what has happened and is happening to Japan today. Pearl Buck has simply, and sympathetically, put this into words.

That Mrs. Buck does not speak or understand Japanese in no way invalidates either her memories—which are obviously, and justifiably, tinged with sentiment—or the historical facts making up the major part of her text. Nevertheless the lack places at least some sections of the book in the category of, for want of a better word, "intuitive" reporting, rather than in-depth study. It means that she was not only dependent upon her interpreter, but had to rely entirely on surface observations, for no foreigner who is not fluent in the admittedly difficult Japanese language and its idioms can hope to meet and understand the Japanese people in their natural habitat.

Few if any authors with the stature, tenderness, and sensitivity of Pearl Buck have attempted it, and those who have have all too often been taken in by the charming outward manners and mannerisms of these acknowledgedly "charming" individuals (when they want to be). Perhaps that is why one of the best, if not the best book on modern Japan was written by a woman who had never set foot in the country—Ruth Benedict. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was not influenced by surface charm. Although Miss Benedict's wartime study of the complexities of the Japanese character may be out of date, The People of Japan is too loving and indulgent to update it. An honest, fundamentally accurate description of Japan today, it is, in the final analysis, also a rosy-hued picture of the country and its inhabitants seen through the eyes of a warm-hearted and forgiving grandmother.

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This section contains 572 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Horace Bristol
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