Block’s approach is aimed directly at young adult readers through an emphasis on the personalities that surrounded Buck as a child and young woman. The author portrays the varying roles that Buck assumed in her life, both in China and in the United States. Block’s approach suggests that life has many possible pathways, and he illustrates this point by describing how, despite seeming set in a life much like her own mother’s—as wife and mother in a missionary family in China—Buck took up writing to become a world-famous novelist.
Buck’s parents are depicted as proud, cultured, but sharply different individuals. Her father, Absalom, was so devoted to the work of converting the Chinese people to Protestant Christianity that he had little time for family life. Her mother, Caroline, is described as a strong, stern wife and mother who came to believe that it was a mistake to have spent her life in China. Buck’s own development is shown through her desire to absorb Chinese life and language as a child and to become an avid reader of fiction, all while watching her mother struggle with raising a family in remote Chinese mission stations.
Unfortunately, Block does not convey the great transformation in personal and economic terms that occurred when Buck left the plain, modest life among American missionaries in China to become a wealthy and famous woman in the United States. He also leaves out her close friendship with many prominent...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
The Lives of Pearl Buck was the first volume in a series called Women of America, which includes women noted for success in such a wide variety of fields as art, politics, business, medicine, and community organization. Like other volumes in the series, The Lives of Pearl Buck portrays how a talented, intelligent, and capable woman made her mark in the world. Buck was an obvious choice for this series because she was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was not only a famous writer but also a widely admired champion of social justice, racial equality, and charity toward unwanted children of racially mixed marriages. During her lifetime, she was a perennial favorite in newspaper polls to name the most admired women in the United States.
While it does not address some important issues, The Lives of Pearl Buck provides a good introduction to the fascinating events of Buck’s life. Yet so many of Buck’s own writings are easily within the grasp of children and young adults that they should be encouraged to read her works themselves. She wrote half a dozen books for children, including The Water-Buffalo Children (1943) and The Big Wave (1948). Many of her novels, such as The Good Earth and The Townsman (1945, written under the pseudonym of John Sedges), are appropriate for teenagers. In addition, there are her autobiographical accounts, such as My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1954) and A Bridge for Passing (1962), and her unforgettable biographies of her father, Fighting Angel: Portrait of a Soul (1936), and her mother, The Exile (1936).