The New Pearl

At Nextbook, novelist Jennifer Cody Epstein calls for a reassessment of the works of Pearl S. Buck. Epstein argues on behalf of Buck’s best-known work, The Good Earth, but the essay mainly focuses on Buck’s 1948 novel, Peony, about the shrinking population of Chinese Jews in the country. Epstein writes:

Peony also offers a glimpse into what makes Pearl Buck so exceptional among American writers. There’s her extraordinary eye for cultural detail; the almost effortless translation of Eastern culture and practice into tales that are not only factually accurate, but entirely sympathetic to a Western audience. There is her relentless championing of the oppressed, and her unabashed (and religiously unbiased) distrust of triumphalism in any form. In Peony, this is manifest in the old and (not coincidentally) blind rabbi who rants against “the heathen” and steadfastly maintains the unique role of the Israelites. “God has chosen my people,” he cries, “that we may eternally remind mankind of Him, Who alone rules. We are gadfly to man’s souls.” They are words that might well have been uttered by Absalom Sydenstricker, Buck’s missionary father, who for more than half a century tirelessly (if unsuccessfully) urged Chinese men and women to embrace Jesus.