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Pearl of China, Anchee Min


Willow Lee is a girl growing up in a small Chinese village in the late 1800’s. Her family, consisting of her father and his mother, becomes increasingly poor as she grows older, and soon she is helping her father steal things to sell. Then she meets Pearl, the daughter of the white missionaries Absalom and Carie, and they soon become good friends. Pearl, who has lived in China since she was a baby, feels culturally Chinese but is set apart by her blonde hair and blue eyes. Willow’s father attaches himself to the church, and though he starts out as simply hoping to earn a little money, soon becomes a convert and a disciple of the preacher Absalom. The novel follows Willow and Pearl as they grow; Pearl leaving for America with her mother, and later returning with her husband, Lossing Buck, and Willow as she enters an unhappy marriage and gives birth to a disabled child. The historical setting is evident throughout as the foreign missionaries are under constant threat from the government and others.

Although the first half of the book moved quickly and was engaging, I felt that it slowed down quite a bit in the latter half. Perhaps this was because Pearl and Willow are separated and no longer have the interaction which drives the earlier chapters. The novel might be of more interest to someone who is reading Buck’s novels at the same time. It has been many years since I read any of them, and that might be contributing to my disengagement with this particular work.

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