Didn’t you just love O-lan?
- Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck’s Life in China by Hilary Spurling
Profile, 340 pp, £15.00, April 2010, ISBN 978 1 86197 828 8
Pearl Buck was the favourite novelist of both my grandmothers, which like their shingle haircuts and their trust in authority, their Coca-Cola brisket, has always seemed an example of the unassimilable foreignness of their lives to mine. An entire generation fell in love with Buck: they made her dozens of books international bestsellers and gave her the Nobel Prize. No writer was more often translated or, while she lived, more admired. No writer since Marco Polo has done more to shape how the West thinks about China. ‘What Dickens had done for London’s 19th-century poor,’ Hilary Spurling writes in her new biography, ‘Pearl Buck did for the working people of 20th-century China,’ with American affinity for the Chinese swelling just as Japan invaded the mainland. It didn’t last, of course, any more than Buck’s literary reputation lasted; but Spurling gives a sense of how it came about.