That China Girl

{May 3, 2011}   Pearl’s wisdom

I saw Mrs. Gately sitting in her garden yesterday. She always shouts out when you walk by her house, so I knew my chances of getting past her were slim. She sorta scared me at first. I thought of her as this bossy, know-it-all, cranky woman, who acted superior because she’d lived in China so long. Now I’m seeing that’s just the outer shell. Like Mr. Faust, a teacher I had back home who yelled at the students he liked best, almost as a test. He freaked people out that way, but if you could stand it, you learned a lot.

So when Mrs. G. called me over, in a tone that suggested I’d just egged and teepeed her house and was about to pay for it, I tried to remember this. She was lying on a recliner under an umbrella on the patio, reading and sipping a drink her ayi just brought her.

“This woman is brilliant!”

She waved a book in front of my face and handed it to me. I found myself looking down at rather somber-looking old lady; her brown hair was combed back, most likely in a bun like they did in old days. Seriously frumpy. She had her hands folded to the side of her face like she was contemplating something, and then I saw the title on the side, “Pearl Buck in China.”

“Oh, yes, The Good Earth,” I said. I knew Mrs. Buck only from her most famous novel. Gran forced me to read it before we moved over here to Beijing. It’s the story about this farmer who’s dirt poor and has an ugly wife with big feet. They work and work and as the rich family in town, the Huangs, loses all their money, the farmer becomes more prosperous. I didn’t like the end because the farmer was close to dying and even though he’d brought up his sons to respect the land and not waste money, they were secretly plotting to sell it after he died. I thought the whole thing was depressing.

It made Buck famous. Became a bestseller and a movie and won her a Pulitzer prize and a Nobel prize, too. In her acceptance speech she talked about how she was inspired more by Chinese stories than American ones, and how she learned so much from living in China as a missionary’s daughter.

Mrs. Gately laughed at my verdict on Wang Lung’s life and fate. “That’s the Chinese way,” she said. “Their stories don’t end like you expect them to. It’s worth keeping in mind.”

“But if you read about her life, you’ll see how hard it was and where those endings came from. She was one tough cookie. A bad marriage, disabled daughters, and chased out of China by the revolution,” Mrs. Gately shook her head. “I’ve learned more from her than most of the supposed China experts I’ve met here.”

She handed me the book, and I knew I was getting a reading assignment, whether I wanted one or not.

It seems more a book someone my Mom’s age would like. Has anybody else out there read it? How about any of Pearl Buck’s novels? Do you like them or find them TDFW like I do?


Tia Bach says:

Love this unique spin on blogging. I was planning on blogging in character a day or two in May, but this is quite the exercise. Can’t wait to read more!

I did have to look a bit to figure out how to leave a comment, but I’m pretty new to this.

I’ll enjoy your journey!

[…] which is a challenge since I mentioned the one and only China-related book I’ve ever read in yesterday’s post. In case you missed it and aren’t into links, it’s The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, which […]

[…] school we’ve been studying the four Classical Chinese Novels.  They’re the one’s Pearl Buck, who I wrote about before, found so […]

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