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Book Title: The Exile|
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Pearl S. Buck
Date of issue: February 1st 1976
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 851 KB
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Reader ratings: 5.2
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"The Exile" is Pearl Buck's biography of her mother, and it serves as a companion to "Fighting Angel," her biography of her father. "Companion," probably isn't the best word because Pearl Buck's mother and father were anything but companions to one another. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that their biographies, like themselves, are more like two sides of the same coin.
While "Fighting Angel" focused on Andrew (Absalom) Sydenstricker's pioneering missionary career, it rarely mentioned his wife, Carie, or children, except when describing their almost complete alienation from him. By contrast, "The Exile" is almost entirely about the family. Pearl Buck's greatest success in these paired biographies is her ability to tell two drastically different stories of two drastically different lives, only to have the reader realize that this is essentially the same story of the same joint life -- just experienced completely differently.
This difference in experience is certainly due to the difference in characters. While Andrew is driven by a maddening goal to bring the gospel to all the world, Carie is motivated by a desire to "be good," to serve others and care for her children. She is frequently described in "The Exile" as a lover of beauty, be it nature or music, while Andrew is portrayed in "Fighting Angel" as being almost completely oblivious to such "frivolities," as he would no doubt deem them.
But the difference is also in the gender of the protagonists. As a man, Andrew's world -- both physical and metaphorical -- opened up to him, while Carie's gave her only limited possibilities. As a result, I regret to say that while I absolutely abhorred Andrew as a person, I was more moved by his narrative because he was constantly engaging with the outside world, while in Carie's biography, every attempt to find voice and purpose seems to be thwarted by gender, illness, loneliness, or theological doubt. Both biographies could be viewed as tragedies, as both of Buck's parents seemed mired in the helplessness of wanting to do more than one was capable or doing. Even so, there are some powerful revelations of the human struggle that make this pair of biographies an important read.
My main critique of "The Exile" is that it was written with too heavy a hand in regard to nationalism. Perhaps it is my postcolonial worldview coming through, but I found Pearl Buck's obsession with America as the paragon of morality and cleanliness wreaked of unearned superiority, and I'm not sure why it appears in this work at all. In Buck's other works, she seems more critical of the United States, endearing readers to her beautiful, albeit complex, homeland of China, but in this work, "America, the Beautiful" is one of her central themes.
I found myself wanting Buck to write more about her parents' unspoken theological and existential conflicts. For instance, one of my favorite passages appears almost at the end of the book:
"To [Andrew] she was only a woman. Since those days when I saw all her nature dimmed I have hated Saint Paul with all my heart and so must all true women hate him, I think, because of what he has done in the past to women like Carie, proud free-born women, yet damned by their very womanhood. I rejoice for her sake that his power is gone in these new days" (283).
Yet there is very little reflection on gender, theology, or marital conflict in this biography. Instead, there seem to be one too many mentions of Carie's love of beautiful cloth or the flowers she grew in her garden.
So this book gets three stars from me for a fascinating other-side-of-the-coin perspective of the same subject matter as expressed in "Fighting Angel," but it just misses the four and five star marks because of an unearned obsession with America and the underdeveloped character of Carie.
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Read information about the authorPearl Sydenstricker Buck was a bestselling and Nobel Prize–winning author. Her classic novel The Good Earth (1931) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and William Dean Howells Medal. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the daughter of missionaries and spent much of the first half of her life in China, where many of her books are set. In 1934, civil unrest in China forced Buck back to the United States. Throughout her life she worked in support of civil and women’s rights, and established Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. In addition to her highly acclaimed novels, Buck wrote two memoirs and biographies of both of her parents. For her body of work, Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first American woman to have done so. She died in Vermont.
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