Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Edward Weeks

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
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Critical Review by Edward Weeks

SOURCE: A review of The Three Daughters of Madame Liang, in Atlantic, Vol. 224, No. 1, July, 1969, pp. 104-06.

In the following review, Weeks praises Buck's The Three Daughters of Madame Liang as "compassionate, elucidating, and wise."

Pearl Buck is an old China hand who cannot accept without protest what is going on between her native land and her country of adoption. She has a singular knowledge of China, of the Empress Dowager, and Sun Yat-sen, and from this, and from her secondhand sources about the China that is, she has written a novel, The Three Daughters of Madame Liang, which is compassionate, elucidating, and wise.

Madame Liang is a matriarch in her mid-fifties as the story opens; slim, lovely, and discreet, she runs a gourmet's dream of a restaurant in modern Shanghai, patronized by officials and protected by one of her old suitors, Chao Chung, a minister in Peking. In pre-Communist days she had been attracted to the Americans in the concessions, particularly to the Brandons of San Francisco, to whom after Mao's ascendancy she sent her three daughters to be educated in America. In her youth Madame Liang and her then loyal husband were fiery adherents of Sun Yat-sen; now in her privacy she repents of the ten-year chaos that followed Sun's Revolution, and has deep misgivings about the new order. "It was we who were wrong," she says, "… we destroyed the achievement of thousands of years. We thought what the West had was all good, and what we had was all useless." With dismay she watches the ruthless new order imposed by Chairman Mao. She hopes to live to see the liberation; meantime she awaits her daughters' return, and with her culinary art she bends to the wind.

Of the three girls, Grace, the oldest and a doctor, is the first to come home. Fresh from her research in South America, where she has been studying the health-giving properties of plants, she is ordered back to Peking to help prepare a synthesis of Chinese and Western medicine. Warned by her mother that she must listen and not speak out in the American way, the girl is first taken in hand by an old primitive, Dr. Tseng, who instructs her in the ancient herbal cures which she finds surprisingly relevant. In her adaptation she is rewarded with a small house of her own, and here she is politically—as he calls it "philosophically"—instructed by Dr. Liu Peng, a man of her own age whose square features, black brows, and strong hands are more exciting than his arguments.

Mercy, the second to return, is prettier and more maternal than her elder sister: she arrives on her honeymoon, determined that her children shall be born on Chinese soil, she and her husband, John Sung, a young nuclear physicist, having escaped from security relations by flying to London and then transshipping through the Chinese embassy. Their arrival coincides with the Great Leap Forward, and while John's knowledge is needed, he soon proves to be too "individualistic," and his punishment is severe.

The youngest daughter, Joy, is more painter than patriot, and she needs only the dissuasion and adoration of the famous artist in exile with whom she is studying to remain where she is in New York.

The skeins of these three love stories are wound together in Madame Liang's heart as, isolated and in increasing danger, she observes the desolation which famine and the Red Guards have brought to the land she loves. It is she who speaks for Miss Buck. It is she who in her reverie weighs the greatness and the weakness of China, the achievements and the moderation of centuries leading in time to a complacency completely isolated from the new knowledge. It is she who, remembering China's former love for Americans, says, "There is no hate so dangerous as that which once was love." And it is Madame Liang who in her loneliness as she reviews the skill and cunning of the god-hero Mao still places her faith in the rocklike tenacity of the Chinese people, remembering the ancient saying of Lao Tzu, "Throw eggs at a rock, and though one uses all the eggs in the world, the rock remains the same."

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This section contains 705 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Edward Weeks
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