Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Margaret Parton

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 842 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Margaret Parton

SOURCE: "The Call of China," in Saturday Review, Vol. 37, No. 45, November 6, 1954, p. 17.

In the following review, Parton praises the delicacy and restraint of Buck's writing in My Several Worlds.

"Two worlds, two worlds, and one cannot be the other, and each has its ways and blessings, I suppose," Pearl Buck sighs, as she visits a lonely farm woman in a mechanized South Dakota kitchen and remembers nostalgically the chatter of Chinese women beating their laundry by the edge of the communal pond.

Of these two worlds Mrs. Buck has made a magnificent synthesis, writing of the world of China from the perspective of twenty years in the United States, of the world of America from the perspective of forty years in China. Those who have read all her books—as this reviewer has not—may feel that My Several Worlds is her finest achievement. Those who have not can take it as the rich autumnal flowering of a varied and sensitive mind whose roots are in the common soil of all humanity.

"We have no enemies, we for whom the globe is home," she writes, "for we hate no one, and where there is no hate it is not possible to escape love." With love, then, she has written her autobiography, and where there was hate or at least discord she writes with delicacy and a restraint almost too noble for contemporary taste, grown used to malice and vindictiveness.

If there are any toward whom Mrs. Buck reserves her anger, it is those who sowed the seeds which the innocent must reap today in whirlwind: the English who immobilized China for a century with opium wars and condescension and who for three centuries exploited India while giving nothing in return; the French in Indo-China, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Americans who must share guilt by the very reason of their silence. And Chiang Kai-shek too, with his limited military mind and his government of contemptuous young intellectuals who failed to understand the people they governed and most particularly failed in understanding that nationalism must be supplemented by idealism if a government is to survive.

As everyone knows, Mrs. Buck is well qualified to write of these matters, to tell us of the China that is gone, and why it went. The daughter of missionary parents who first went to China in 1880, she was born in the United States but taken to China to live when she was three months old. And there, in the idyllic days before the Boxer Rebellion, she grew up in the strange dual world of the missionary child, slipping easily from Chinese patter with playmates to formal English with her parents, from a poached-egg breakfast in the dining room to rice dumplings in the kitchen, from Mark Twain to Confucius. Then the Rebellion forced the family to flee to Shanghai, and in 1909 the observant little girl saw the signs in the parks: "No Chinese, No Dogs." Seeds for the whirlwind.

China was never quite the same afterward. Each time the young Pearl returned from a trip to America, and particularly after her four years at college, she found the rift widened between Chinese and white. And yet she lived on, because it was her home, because she had undertaken a marriage "which continued for seventeen years in its dogged fashion" to an American agriculturalist stationed in China, and most of all because she loved the country about which she was at last beginning to write.

These China years are really the meat of the book, absorbing in their detail of friends, food, literary life, glimpses of Chinese history and philosophy, and the constant, tragic movement of current history. In the end the history, the continual wars and revolutions so ominous of the future, drove her from China as surely as did the dissolution of her own marriage, and her life broke in two, as does the book.

In America she found a Pennsylvania farmhouse, a happy second marriage, four new children to be adopted, and a host of new interests. But like so many Americans who have returned home after years in Asia, one thing she sought and did not find: and that was any curiosity on the part of most Americans about the life of the common man of Asia—a disinterest which is reflected in the ignorance of our statesmen and politicians.

Ah well, says Mrs. Buck with philosophical Chinese acceptance, "a nation, like a child, cannot comprehend beyond the capacity of its mental age. To teach calculus to a child of six is absurd. One has to begin at the beginning, one has to wait for maturity and it cannot be hastened."

While Mrs. Buck is, of course, giving a lesson in mature world thinking to beginners, it should be hastily added that she is far removed from a severe schoolmarm. An old hand at this sort of thing, she knows well how to combine instruction with entertainment—as witnessed by the fact that this reviewer tried conscientiously to skip here and there, and found it impossible to do.

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This section contains 842 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Margaret Parton
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Margaret Parton from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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