Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dragon Seed - Review

"The woman had hair as yellow as cat's fur, and it did not lie smooth about her head as hair does, but it stood out like lamb's wool."  These were the thoughts of Ling Sao as she came face to face with her first white woman.
Pearl Buck's Dragon Seed is set in northeastern China during Japan's invasion between 1937-1941.  It tells the story in all its brutal details through the lens of a single farming family living on the outskirts of a large city - possibly Nanjing or Shanghai.  This simple, hardy family suffers all the ravages of war and being conquered - flight, rape, murder, oppression, irrational injustice, heavy taxation, poverty, hunger, disease, and extreme instability.  In the midst of this single family, we all the options of resistance - flight, subversive fighting from the hills, compromise with the enemy, sabotage from within the enemy's camp, passive endurance, and sly evasion of taxes and oppression.
In addition to telling a riveting story, Pearl Buck has also revealed the difficulties of isolated people coming into contact with outsiders for the first time.  As one living in Korea, where contact with foreigners is still somewhat new.  These little bits of insight from the perspective of the indigenous people shed light on many of my experiences.  On more than one occasion, we have caused a baby to cry simply by entering an elevator with our white faces.  But even more common is a deep reticence to talk with us simply because we are different.  When one has been exposed to only one type of people for many generations, the sudden advent of diversity is radically disconcerting.
I recommend this book, not only because it's a great novel, but also because it can help expats living in Asia to understand a little bit more about how we are often experienced by many in our host nation.  The Josh rating: JJJJ.
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