I have just finished reading Letter From Peking, a short novel by one of my favorite writers, Pearl S. Buck.
Buck was one of those blessed people who are born between two worlds and get to experience two different cultures. In her case, it was the United States and China, where her parents worked as missionaries.
This book is written in Buck’s unique language, a deceptively simple discourse that is a pleasure to read. However, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her other novels, probably because I didn’t empathize with the first person narrator, Elizabeth MacLeod. Having said this, it is still a good read in my opinion.
I found Elizabeth chauvinistic and old-fashioned, but that’s probably my fault. One should make allowances for the fact that the novel was written in 1957. There’s one thing I cannot forgive, though, and it’s the fact that she’s a busybody and interferes in her son’s life. The result is good in the end, but that doesn’t justify her methods.
The book boasts an interesting cast of characters: Gerald, Elizabeth’s husband is a loyal and shy man, half- American, half-Chinese, who never got over the fact that his parents didn’t love each other. Gerald’s father, an old, forgetful man who keeps his dignity and elegance to the end. And Rennie, Elizabeth’s son, a headstrong youth who wishes his blood was one percent American.
Like many other Pearl S. Buck novels, this is a love story. A love that in the end is stronger than country and war.
One of the main themes of this novel is the difficulty those of mixed race have to fit in. We also get to see how narrow-minded people can be when it comes to accepting those who are different.
All in all, if you have a few hours to spare, I think you should read this novel. Buck is a wonderful writer who always makes her material shine.
I leave you with two quotes from the book:
“The days of my youth are past and to a woman full grown a kiss means everything—or nothing.”
“Liz, it’s so easy to say ‘I’m sorry.’ It costs nothing and it saves a mint of pain. Those two words are the common coin of daily life, but especially between people who love each other.”