Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
Early in the text, Buck comments that “except for a few incidents whose disaster I was able to accept” her life was “uneventfully happy.” She acknowledges that it was her good fortune to live in an eventful time in history and to have parents who were willing to take risks. Buck successfully translates the eventful and uneventful circumstances in her life for the benefit of the reader by using the familiar techniques of reminiscences and flashbacks. Buck is most interesting when she reveals the relationships that she had with the children and adults, both Chinese and American, with whom she interacted. The juxtaposition of past and present communicates the impact that growing up in China had on her.
Buck is successful in telling her own story and at the same time protecting the privacy of those closest to her. Her parents, husbands, and children are identified in My Several Worlds only by their relationship to her. As a result, the author maintains the focus on herself but clearly relates the importance of her family and of personal relationships. While those closest to her are unnamed, the Chinese figures in her life are all given names and Americans outside her immediate family are identified, so that the reader knows that she talked with Sinclair Lewis, Katharine Hepburn, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many other famous individuals.
Buck occasionally reports conversations that she remembers, but for the most part, she tells her story without capitalizing on fictional techniques. The dialogue that she remembers has a ring of authenticity to it, as she recalls, that her childhood Chinese friends called most white-skinned foreigners “foreign devil”; because she was American, they did not call her that. Most of the conversations that she records are reported as remembered events rather than as re-creations. Dialogues that are recreated help to deepen the understanding between the Chinese and American cultures.
One of the appeals of this autobiography is the optimistic tone that pervades it. Buck’s life was not an easy one. She discusses her feelings of isolation as she was sent to a private girls’ school, her fear as she and her family had to hide from the revolutionary guard, her despair over her child, her unhappiness in her first marriage, and the death of her mother. Yet with each of these fearful and distressing situations, she always finds strength. Nevertheless, she is not saccharine about her life. Her message is clear: Meet life head on, do not dwell on the negative, and file all experiences away for future reference, as they may be useful.
While Buck’s autobiography is a positive experience, it will also be a difficult experience for many readers. Buck did not write this book for a young adult audience, but it seems to have had a continuing appeal for young people. China and the United States have a very different relationship from the one that Buck discusses and her biases against the postrevolutionary China must be seen in the context of the Cold War of the 1950’s. My Several Worlds provides insights to the mistrust between the two cultures, and her perceptions about various Chinese leaders—from the Dowager Empress to Mao Tse-tung—help to establish a context to understand China.