Whenever I pick up a Pearl S. Buck novel, I always approach it with initial skepticism (Do I REALLY want to read this?) and then wind up completely delighted (What a master storyteller!). Buck makes even the simplest story compelling. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
This one is NOT taken from her experiences in China; it’s more autobiographical. Through protagonist Joan Richards, Buck revisits her own early years as a minister’s daughter, a caretaker for aging parents, a responsible elder sister, an unhappy wife living with her husband’s family, and a mother of a severely handicapped child.
With exquisite detail, Buck takes us deep into Joan’s inner life. Dutiful, eager to please, hungry to experience love and life — Joan is continually hampered by the restrictive expectations placed on her gender.
All the supporting characters are richly drawn, distinctive, and completely believable.
- Joan’s parents whose outward success hides mutual dissatisfaction.
- Her handsome, self-indulged younger brother — eager to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot, in part to escape an uncontrollable secret passion.
- Joan’s remote younger sister Rose — with a quiet, almost ethereal devotion to God.
- The closeted church organist who becomes Joan’s first romance.
- And the oafish farmer who becomes her husband.
I came to care about all of them and eager to discover how their life struggles would resolve. And particularly whether Joan would ever find the contentment she deserved.
According to the notes, when Buck first wrote this book, she decided NOT to publish it because of the deeply personal nature of the content. Initially, the act of writing it served as a cathartic experience for her, allowing her to move on with her life. The actual publishing of the story she felt could wait.
I found this novel completely engrossing. Particularly its decided feminist take. It’s quite a testament to the struggles of one woman, whose personal desires do not quite mesh with the expectations of the family and friends in her surrounding community.
More about the author.
You may be interested in my reviews of other books by Pearl S. Buck: