Anchee Min's personal view on 'The Good Earth' author
St. Paul, Minn. — Writer Anchee Min's latest book "Pearl of China" is a novel. It's also a deeply personal story for the author.
It details the life of Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck. In the early 1930's Buck wrote "The Good Earth," followed by dozens of other books capturing life in China. Min says while much has been written about Buck's life, it's never been from a Chinese perspective.
Pearl S. Buck, the daughter of American missionaries lived much of the first 40 years of her life in China. She reluctantly left in 1932 in the face of rising animosity towards foreigners. She wrote extensively about life in China, and in 1938 became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Min came across Buck in 1971 when she was a girl.
"I was ordered to denounce Pearl S. Buck when I was a teenager in Shanghai middle school," she says.
The order came from Madame Mao herself. President Richard Nixon was about to make his famous visit, and wanted to bring Buck with him. However Min says Madame Mao blocked Buck's visa application.
"So to deal with the world's media questioning why Pearl Buck's visa was rejected, Madam Mao came up with this strategy," she says. "To have the nation from top down, including kids like me, to denounce Pearl Buck as an American cultural imperialist."
As a good, young communist Min says she did as she was told.
Years later she moved to America. During a tour with her memoir "Red Azalea" a woman pressed a copy of "The Good Earth" into her hand. The woman said she learned to love the Chinese people through reading Pearl Buck's stories. Min remembers breaking down in tears back in her hotel as she read the book.
"I realized how wrong we all were," she says. "I had never read any novelist, including my favorite and most respected Chinese authors who wrote about our peasants as Pearl Buck did. With such admiration, affection and humanity. So it was at that very moment that the idea for the book 'Pearl of China' was born."
She wanted to tell the story from the Chinese perspective, and as she researched the story she began finding more and more personal links.
Buck's descriptions of rural life were much like what she had experienced as a girl living summers with her grandmother in a small village.
Min visited the community where Buck's parents had worked as missionaries. At first people didn't want to talk, still scared by the persecution they faced during the cultural revolution. However the pastor of the church originally built by Buck's father was dying. He decided to tell Min the story of the church and the hidden Christians in Communist China.
This led Min to another realization.
"I did not know my mother was a secret Christian," she says.
When she remembered how her mother had opposed the way she had denounced certain teachers, she began thinking about what the pastor had told her. The she remembered another incident.
"One night, in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the toilet, I stumbled over a human on the floor in the dark. It was my mother, on her knees. Now looking back she was praying, because I was turning into a monster."
Min wove the personal with Pearl Buck into a novel which she says she hopes will entertain, and educate readers about recent Chinese history. She says book is her way of giving back.
"I'm given so much by America," she says. "Therefore so much should be expected from me. And the best thing I can offer is my knowledge about China."
Min will read from "Pearl of China" at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Talk of the Stacks series at the Minneapolis Central Library.
She says it's a pity "The Good Earth" isn't required reading in schools the way it once was, because she believes what happens in China will inevitably effect the US.
- All Things Considered, 04/29/2010, 4:54 p.m.