It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.
Pearl is head-strong, independent and fiercely intelligent, and will grow up to be Pearl S Buck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning writer and humanitarian activist, but for now all Willow knows is that she has never met anyone like her in all her life. From the start the two are thick as thieves, but when the Boxer Rebellion rocks the nation, Pearl's family is forced to leave China to flee religious persecution. As the twentieth century unfolds in all its turmoil, through right-wing military coups and Mao's Red Revolution, through bad marriages and broken dreams, the two girls cling to their lifelong friendship across the sea.
Anchee Min's Pearl of China is a heartwarming tale about the friendship of two girls —— a country bumpkin (Willow) and a white-skinned, blue-eyed Chinese (Pearl). The fates of these two have been entwined since young, when Pearl's father (Absalom) came on a mission to spread gospel in a small town called Chin-kiang. Willow's father was poor and though he first embraced Christianity and became Absalom's sidekick for physical sustainability, he gradually became a staunch believer and promoter of his faith, attracting the masses and converting many people in his life.
Willow and Pearl's friendship spanned throughout their whole lifetime, creating a wonderful memoir of timeless friendship against the backdrop of Mao Tse Tung's reign and fall in China. It was interesting that Min inserted a love story between Pearl and Tsu Chih Mo, a legendary contemporary poet who was known for his constant pursue of love and romance, and had Willow playing the stuck-in-the-middle person. Willow had her eyes on Tsu, but Tsu's eyes reflect only Pearl's image. Willow, albeit initially wallowed in jealousy, finally decided to give her blessing to her favourite man Tsu and best friend Pearl. She became the lovers' middle-woman, giving the pair a chance to rendezvous.
From the beginning till the end, Pearl was by heart a Chinese, she loved Willow as a sister she never had, and Willow loved Pearl dearly against all odds. Fine as this story was, I think Pearl of China lacked a certain oomph factor that makes a good book a great book.