Anchee Min, 'Pearl of China'
In 1971, during China's Cultural Revolution, 14-year-old Anchee Min was ordered to denounce the American novelist Pearl Buck as a "cultural imperialist." Min had never heard of the Nobel Prize-winning author of The Good Earth and other works celebrating the lives of ordinary Chinese, but she dutifully complied.
Years later, living in the United States, Min was on tour promoting her memoir Red Azalea when a fan thrust a copy of Buck's novel into her hands. Later, as she read it on the plane, she burst into tears.
"I cried because I realized how beautifully Buck had told the story of the Chinese peasant, in a way that few others, even Chinese, had ever done," says the author of such acclaimed novels as Becoming Madame Mao and The Last Empress.
"And I cried because I was only then realizing this, and that I was only one of a generation that had been indoctrinated to think poorly of Buck."
With Pearl of China, Min atones for that long-ago and innocent sin. Based on the life of Buck, her new novel centers on the friendship that blossoms between blond-haired Pearl, daughter of American missionaries, and Willow, the only child of a destitute Chinese family. The story follows their entwined lives through the tumult of 20th century China's history.
"I wrote the novel to show where Pearl's great sensitivity and insight into the Chinese and Chinese culture came from," Min says.
Buck grew up in China and lived there more than 30 years. Over a long career she produced nearly 40 novels, and for many Americans in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, her portrait of contemporary Chinese life constituted virtually all they knew of the country. Buck died in 1973.
Released earlier this month, Pearl of China is already garnering strong praise. In a starred review, Booklist called it "ardently detailed, dramatic and encompassing," and said "Min's fresh and penetrating interpretation of Pearl S. Buck's extraordinary life delivers profound psychological, spiritual, and historical insights within an unforgettable cross-cultural story of a quest for veracity, compassion, and justice."
Min will give a reading and participate in a discussion of the novel at 6:30 pm on May 6 in the Kyle Morrow Room on the third floor of the Fondren Library on the Rice campus. Asia Society Texas Center, together with Rice University Office of Multicultural Community Relations and Brazos Bookstore, will host the free event. The evening will include an onstage interview of the author by St. John Flynn, director of cultural programming at KUHF-FM and host of The Front Row.
Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At 17 she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio singled her out for training as an actress in propaganda films. She moved to the United States in 1984 and burst onto the literary scene with Red Azalea, which recounted her life growing up during the Cultural Revolution. Published in 1994, the book became in international best seller. Pearl of China is her sixth novel.
Rice University Fondren Library, 3rd Floor, 6100 Main Street Houston