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“Kinfolk” by Pearl S Buck

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September 9, 2011 by wcobserver

Something I've Read

By Kelly Gass kgass@copper.net

This is a story of a Chinese-American family dwelling in New York City in the 1940s. The Liang family left China for the U.S., several years before the Communist Party of China took over, and are living a solid American middle-class lifestyle.

Mr. Liang is a well-respected world renowned scholar and as the reader soon learns, he is also very self-righteous and arrogant. Mrs. Liang is a simple but practical wife and mother. She is extremely loyal to her family.

The four children are James, Mary, Louise, and Peter. While inheriting their father’s intellect, all four children seem to have an honest dose of their mother’s empathy for others. James the eldest has recently finished medical school and wants to practice medicine in the ancestral land of his family. Mary is a teacher and like James, does not embrace the worldly and materialistic ways of the West. Peter tends to be rebellious but wants to go to college for engineering. Louise is very much a typical American teenager and really doesn’t cherish her oriental heritage. She is interested mostly in boys and embraces the “whatever attitude.”

James is so determined to go to China that he finally leaves on his own, giving up his chance to marry his fiancée and secure a well-paying career in the US.

Mr. Liang gets paid well for giving speeches in America but constantly complains to his family about the decadent American culture. Unlike his oldest son James, Mr. Liang is not a doer, but a thinker and a philosopher. He claims to prefer the teachings of Confucius, but also enjoys his relatively protected and charmed niche life-style he has created in America. He himself knows he can’t go back to China as he would probably be killed. But this does not prevent him, in a fit of anger, from sending all his children to China to be with their older brother.

The story really gets interesting once the four siblings are finally together in China. As expected, James and Mary are determined to be successful in their new home. Louise can’t wait to get back to America. Peter ends up getting in serious trouble at the Chinese university. Eventually James and Mary end up moving to the ancestral village, the same village their parents moved from many years before.

The author¸ Pearl Buck spent a good portion of her early life in China. Her parents were missionaries and she got to see firsthand the cultural differences between China and the West. Buck was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for her novel, “The Good Earth.”

Pearl S. Buck is a master story teller and this book more than kept my interest. I look forward to reading more of her extensive body of work.

Stay tuned for next month’s book review. I plan on reviewing a book from one of our fine local authors.

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