Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections: All Under Heaven

In addition to bombarding this space with my sudden splurge of thoughts on books, what's with this marathon on Coelho's and Buck's? Lets just call it Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and going by esteemed recommendations :)

All Under Heaven is a book that deals with the acceptance of human beings as belonging to just one kind - Humankind, under the all encompassing and loving heavens. A distinguished American diplomat, having served in China for twenty five years, returns home to America with his loving Russian wife and two children. The family's sudden return was due to the imminent Communist Revolution that threatened to destroy many such foreign and noble families, merely because of their social standing. The McNeil family loved China and was integrated in it's rich culture. Except for Mr. McNeil, the rest of the family were as much Chinese as they were not Americans. Even Mr. McNeil, despite his American descent, felt more of a stranger after all his years away from the country. Added to this, was Mrs. McNeil's Russian heritage, intermingling a culture into the family that was founded out of love and the energy to bring forth peace and harmony. The book is a realistic recount of this "mixed" family's struggles and challenges to integrate into America, and their lessons on what it takes to be accepted as true Americans.

Our identities have their roots in the land in which we are nurtured. Our ways of thinking, cultural orientations, and ways of living get tainted by the experiences of the people and traditions of the land. When we enter a new land, our identities are forced to be reformed, to desperately fit in. There ensues a very familiar conflict between our torn personalities - one apprehensive of losing our essence and roots, and the other eager to fit in, to be accepted. In the process, some parts of us get subdued, dormant, fading away into a corner of the soul; some we integrate to form a clarified version of east and west, as a consolation of the best of two worlds, while some parts of our identities grow afresh, sprouting entirely as children of the new land and culture. Pearl Buck brings out these aspects in the book, as the diverse family struggles to be part of America, while fearful of not losing their true self. The adolescent children of the family find it more easier to grow into Americans and are eager to shed away their prejudiced associations, while the parents fear the integrity of such a growth.

Most of us have faced the challenges of entering a new country, a new culture and way of living. America as it is today, is seen as reasonably welcoming, speckled with diverse culture, cuisines and acceptance of liberal and independent ways of living. The transition has been made almost seamless. But more than five decades before, when revolutions were at their hilt and the world kept breaking and patching up, entering a new country that was wary of foreigners from Communist countries, did not promise such a welcoming experience. The book introduces the America of the yesteryear's - conservative and closed. Pearl Buck delicately brings out the prejudices towards communists, and ignorant beliefs towards them. She openly laments on how America shielded itself from world affairs and history, and people led their quick judgments to isolate anyone with a remote association with China or Russia. Warm hearted young men wanted to bomb, without wanting to think, reason, or find a harmonious solution, while the white peasants were complacent to not worry about what was happening across the oceans.

The book touches upon Communism's impact on those intellectuals like the McNeil's family who desired harmonious existence, but were branded and discriminated due to their social class and heritage. In addition to the misunderstood concepts on Communism, the family's struggle to culturally fit in, forms a realistic and insightful tale.

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