- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen Acclaimed novelist Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 for her body of work. She had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for her most famous novel, “The Good Earth,” published in 1931 and a bestseller that year and in 1932 and made into a movie in 1937.
Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia to missionary parents on home leave from China. She spent many years in turbulent China, returning the States for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Buck was a prolific writer, but the discovery of her final book, “The Eternal Wonder” (Open Road Media, quality paperback, 304 pages, also available as an eBook, $16.99) sounds like an incident from a novel; the manuscript was discovered in 2012 — almost 40 years after her death in 1973 — in a storage unit in Fort Worth, Texas. Link to the NPR story on the discovery: http://www.npr.org/2013/05/25/186318860/a-lost-and-found-wonder-pearl-s-bucks-final-novel
Fans of Pearl Buck will immediately detect many of the themes she wrote about in novels and nonfiction books in this coming-of-age tale of a child prodigy, Randolph (Rann) Colfax, born to an Ohio professor and his wife. Rann displays his love of reading and delight in “The Eternal Wonder” of the world as a toddler. He also discovers the wonders of the female of the species at an early age, and experiences a sexual awakening with an older (she’s in her 30s) English widow named Lady Mary. But the love of his life is a Chinese-Caucasian woman named Stephanie Kung whom he met during his stay in Paris.
Stephanie lives with her Chinese father, who sells Asian art and artifacts — but only to people who meet his exacting standards of taste. Lacking an heir to carry on his name, Kung tries to convince two unwilling people — Rann and Stephanie — to marry. I won’t reveal the reason why Stephanie Kung doesn’t want to marry a man she clearly loves — it’s a spoiler.
Rann Colfax’s experiences reminded me of those of the central figures in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (minus the aging- in-reverse McGuffin) and Winston Groom’s “Forrest Gump” — both turned into movies.
Rann experiences literary fame and its fallout after writing a best-selling book about Korea, following his service in the Army. This undoubtedly reflects the instant fame experienced by Buck after the publication of “The Good Earth.” At the time Buck was married to her publisher, Richard Walsh, and the description of what happens to Rann Colfax obviously draws upon what happened to Buck, especially how she deals with the news media.
Buck was well known in humanitarian circles for seeking justice for mixed-race — particularly Asian-Caucasian — children. This is reflected in her wonderful portrayal of Stephanie Kung, whose American mother deserted her when she was six years old.
If you haven’t read any Pearl Buck novels in a long time — or ever — “The Eternal Wonder” will be an excellent introduction to the much honored writer.
About the Author
Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973) 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 received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first American woman to have done so. She died in Vermont.
Publisher’s website: http://www.openroadmedia.com