Escape your life for a little while — come play in mine.

Book Review: Kinfolk

Posted by Lissa on January 28, 2010

Short review: Excellent!

Longer review:  Good morning, everyone!  How was your weekend?  I took a few days off from blogging to play hostess, but really, what was the news over the last few days anyway?  Did Darth Cheney return?  Did I want to blog about John Edwards?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I decided to do a quick review on Kinfolk when I learned that a friend of mine — who’s MUCH better read than I am — hadn’t read The Good Earth.  I think I first read Buck in eighth grade and never looked back; I can count up at least five of her books on my shelf.  In retrospect, I didn’t know how lucky I was; I used to go to a local library and grab Buck books, not knowing that half of them were out of print and unavailable elsewhere.

Pearl S. Buck was the child of Presbyterian missionaries who raised her in China; she grew up listening to stories from her amah and speaking Chinese*.  If I recall correctly, when she published The Good Earth she was raked over the coals by Chinese intellectuals.  They were horrified that she’d write about the peasants in China; they wanted Westerners to see Chinese culture purely from the view of the elites and the intellectuals, not the dirty commonfolk.

Such an intellectual heads up the family from Kinfolk.  Dr. Wen Hua Liang is a writer and lecturer living in New York City with his wife and four children.  The story follows the children as they fulfill their lifelong dream and, against their father’s wishes, return to China.  Nothing is as they expect; we follow them as they try to reconcile their American upbringing and their father’s glowing, ethereal views with the actual folks on the ground.

I find Buck to be a very entertaining writer.  Part of that stems purely from the fact that she’s an American who wrote a lot of books about China and I’m half-Chinese; not complicated!  But I also love her flow of words.  For example, describing a well into which a body has just been thrown:

Such old wells were deep.  They had been dug in the palace gardens, long ago, so that the Empress might have ample water with which to water her peonies.  Now they were foul with age and death and nobody drank their waters, and all the flowers were dead.

I find that imagery haunting.

My own personal favorite Buck book is out of print, but you can buy used copies from third-party vendors.  Likewise, her short stories are fabulous.  Pick up a book; you won’t be disappointed!

*Yes, I know “Chinese” is not a spoken language, but I don’t know what dialect she spoke and I don’t care enough to go a-Googling.  Knock yourself out. 🙂

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