Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Reflections: Letter From Peking

It's a pity to realize that there are hardly any copies of this book left. Most of Pearl Buck's books are, much to my surprise and bewilderment, lost inside a literary tombstone. But I was glad that I could find a very befitting picture of the book's cover - this is exactly how I would have wished the cover to be on my borrowed copy.

The book's core doesn't stray much from Pearl Buck's much beloved theme - the east and west reaching out to love and accept each other. Elizabeth is an American ardently in love with her half-Chinese husband, Gerald. Her fervent love for Gerald made her a strong woman who was ready to rebel , leave her country and make a home in China. Following the Communist's upheaval within China, Elizabeth and her son are forced to leave Gerald and move to America. Gerald's patriotism and loyalty towards China forbids him to abandon his country - and so he remains, torn with guilt and longing for his family, and a fierce sense of duty towards his country. His occasional letters sent surreptitiously every few months remained the only vestige of hope for the family to unite, until the letters dwindled and a final one came along. The tale is about a heartrending love between two people, separated by the world, because of the races that profiled their faces and genes.

Being half-Chinese and half-American was so pitiful a state when the world tore apart and the oceans distinctly marked the two continents as different and distant. Those like Gerald and his son were stranded, befuddled on where to turn and which country to hold close to them, while both countries silently rejected and never completely accepted them. But both father and son struggle to make home in the country they choose, yielding to sacrifices they couldn't escape from. Meanwhile Elizabeth lives on hope, and nourishes her life through the deep and unending love for Gerald. The book reads on as Elizabeth's journal. It records events that are simple and plain, emotions that are deep and pure.

Pearl Buck's tales have so much realism in them that within a few pages they cease to be a story, a novel - they transform to images of real people living their realities, without embellishments, fancy twists or miracles. Elizabeth's journal captures the pain, the love, the maturity and growing wisdom of a woman cruelly separated from her husband and is left to cope with loneliness. Pearl Buck's characters always come alive from her stories and it's difficult to shake them off as fictitious. Elizabeth comes to life representing many separated and lonely women - victims of the world breaking apart.

The writing in this book is one of Pearl Buck's best. Words rustle and trickle so beautifully, capturing and reflecting on every little emotion and feeling. A simple description of the sunlight out the window, or the spring in the air... seemingly minor in detail, but so immaculately wonderful in their expression. To me, this book symbolizes Pearl Buck's literary spirit.

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