Tag Archives: China

Review: Pearl of China

Pearl of China

Pearl of China
By Anchee Min
(Bloomsbury USA, Paperback, 9781608193127, March 2011, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Interesting premise but poorly executed.

The Rest of It:

It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.

The “Pearl” referenced in that blurb is Pearl S. Buck, author of The Good Earth and numerous other novels. The story follows the lives of Willow and Pearl. This includes their marriages to horrible men, Willow’s imprisonment over refusing to denounce Pearl’s work, and Pearl’s rise as a writer. Some of the novel is based on fact, but the friendship itself is total fiction, which I was disappointed to learn.

The historical bits about Mao’s Red Revolution and particularly the bits about his wife, were fascinating but not fleshed out. There were numerous gaps in the storyline. In real life, Pearl was a visionary. Highly revered for her humanitarian efforts yet in the story, her life almost took a backseat to Willow’s. Min was forced to denounce Buck’s work so perhaps this book was her way of paying homage to the writer. I’m not sure she succeeded, but what she did do was make me want to read The Good Earth.

In additional to the gaps in storyline, the writing itself  is a classic example of “telling” and not “showing.” Min tells you all about these horrible marriages yet she shares nothing about them. I never get a feel for the situation that these women are in. Even the imprisonment, which I’m sure would have been a harrowing experience for anyone, is glossed over with just a few sentences telling us how horrible it was.

Pearl of China was my book club’s pick for July. What could have been a fabulous read, ended up being a thin outline of historical facts with a underdeveloped story thrown in for good measure. I can’t recommend this book, although it did provide quite a bit for us to discuss at our meeting.

Source: Borrowed.

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Review: Forever Lily

The folks over at Andrew E. Freedman Public Relations were kind enough to send me a copy of Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China by Beth Nonte Russell. Memoirs are not typically my thing but this one caught my attention.

Alex and her husband are in the final stages of adopting a child from China. Alex asks her friend Beth to accompany her on the trip to China. Beth is hesitant at first. Why wouldn’t Alex want her own husband to go with her?

After thinking it over, Beth decides to go along figuring it would be quite an adventure and something to add to her travel journal. What she does not anticipate, is the strong emotional bond she feels when she sees the child for the first time.

My reading of this novel could not have been timed better. A close friend of mine just returned from a trip to China and she shared dozens of pictures with me, along with stories about the people, the culture, etc. As I was reading Beth’s story, much of what she said corresponded to what my friend told me. This really set the scene for me and by page 50 I was completely engrossed.

Although Beth is there to accompany Alex, she is deeply affected by the adoption process and haunted by the children that are left behind. The detail in which Beth tells the story is at times heart wrenching, but very well written. Here’s an example:

“What happens when one is confronted with the sick, the neglected, the dirty? Either the heart opens, or it slams shut against the assault. Is this a choice or a reaction born of a million prior choices? What happens when love does not come?”

Although the book does not go into great detail about the living conditions in which these children live, there is enough detail there to make you want to book a flight to China if only to save one child. Russell does an excellent job of allowing you into her world. You see China the way she saw it and you feel her frustration and helplessness as she tells her story.

Although I was deeply moved by the book, I was distracted by the frequent dream sequences. Throughout the story, Russell shares the dreams that she had during the trip. At first I read all of the dream entries, but after a dozen or so, I began to skip them in order to get back to the story. The interview at the back of the book says that the actual dreams were more fractured when she had them, but upon return from the trip, through meditation, she spent a great deal of time reentering the dreams which she admits were past-life experiences. This allowed for more detailed accounts which were included in the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and felt it was well written, but I don’t think the dream sequences were necessary. Knowing that little has changed with China since this book was written, I think it would be a good book for a prospective parent to read…especially one who is considering an international adoption. It doesn’t give you all the specifics as far as the requirements of course, but it does pose some serious questions that a prospective parent should consider very carefully before going through with the process.

As far as book groups, I think there would be plenty for a group to discuss. The idea of international adoption is controversial on its own, but there’s a lot going on between Alex and Beth that I cannot get into without giving the story away.

If you’d like to read more about Chinese adoption, check out this article written by Russell that was published in the New York Times back in 2007.