A daughter of American missionaries, Pearl Buck shaped the American image of pre-communist China perhaps more profoundly than any other writer, winning a Pulitzer Prize for The Good Earth and a Nobel Prize for that seminal book and other writings. Spurling skillfully interweaves accounts of Buck’s life and work to defend against charges that her picture of China was a racist stereotype. On the contrary, Buck rebelled against the “paranoid self-righteousness” of her father and other missionaries, saw more deeply into the lives of the Chinese poor than most Chinese modernizers of her day, incorporated the structure and diction of Chinese popular fiction into her writing, and was ahead of her time -- often at great personal cost -- in opposing religious fundamentalism, racial prejudice, gender oppression, sexual repression, and discrimination against the disabled. Her best writing grew out of personal suffering, which Spurling brings vividly to life in describing Buck’s childhood, first marriage, encounters with famine and revolution, and mothering of a disabled child. This compassionate biography, which focuses on the first half of Buck’s life, when she lived in China, should move readers to rediscover her work as a source of insight into both revolutionary China and the United States’ interactions with it.
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