Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck

Pearl S. Buck, one of America’s most distinguished novelists, was born on this day in 1892.  She spent much of her childhood in China and was a prolific writer on China and Asia. Perhaps best known for the novel “The Good Earth,” she received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938
She also wrote about America and on the theme of democracy.  In essays that comprise a 1943 book, “Asia and Democracy”—coming at the midpoint of the second world war—she discusses the prospects for enlightened self-rule in Asia, but also touches on race relations in the United States.

As a Nobel laureate, she was invited to the White House in April 1962 for the dinner in which President and Mrs. Kennedy honored forty-nine Nobel Prize recipients.  That night she sat at the First Lady’s table in the Blue Room, next to astronaut John Glenn. Among the other luminaries at the table was Lester Pearson, Nobel Peace Prize winner and soon to be prime minister of Canada.

After dinner she spoke with President Kennedy about geopolitical issues in East Asia.  Asked what she thought about Japan helping to rebuild Korea, she was flummoxed, knowing the rocky historical relationship between the two countries.  She diplomatically offered to send him her upcoming book on Korea, a historical novel entitled “The Living Reed.”  The book was published in 1963 after the president’s death.

Pearl Buck also was a humanitarian, launching the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.  And she wrote a book about her daughter, who was afflicted with phenylketonuria, “The Child Who Never Grew,” which influenced Rose Kennedy in her relationship with her daughter Rosemary.

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