Book Review – The Eternal Wonder by Pearl Buck

I’ll spend eternity wondering just how much better this book could’ve been had Ms. Buck lived to complete it. The hand written draft of this unfinished novel turned up in a Texas storage unit in December of 2012; almost 40 years following the author’s passing. Her son, Edgar Walsh, decided to publish this work. Admirers of Ms. Buck’s outstanding talent should be thankful he did. It gives us a first-hand insight into the writing process of one of the world’s best loved authors.

This rough draft read much better than other early versions of works I’ve read. Some of the creative use of language led me to re-read a number of passages. For instance:

And they left the others and were driven back to the house, which no longer seemed a home, but only a house that happened to be theirs. (Location 729)

I also enjoyed the following exchange.

“If it is our fate,” she said.
“Do you believe in fate, Stephanie?”
“Of course I do. At least the Chinese part of me does.”
“And the other-the American?”
She shook her head. “You’ll miss the airport bus. The taxi is waiting.” (Location 2459)

This novel absorbed my attention better than many completed books. I don’t typically encounter that with works-in-progress. I found this story atypically moving for me, as well. The protagonist, Rann Colfax, lived an ideal existence before his world suddenly shattered. (Let’s face it: the best authors do this to their characters.) I devoured this story to see how the bildungsroman would unfold.

From a selfish standpoint, I applauded Ms. Buck’s decision to have Rann take in interest in writing. She presented him as a brilliant person who could pursue any career he wanted. Since this character had many opportunities to choose from and decided to write, it made me feel vindicated in my own decision to try crafting novels. Besides who knows better about the trials and tribulations of writing than an author? For those unaware Ms. Buck wrote around 70 books. She had deep personal knowledge of the story she told.

In terms of criticism, The Eternal Wonder did develop into a tale of two novels. A large portion of it dealt with Rann’s journey into adulthood. The rest addressed the issue of race relations between Americans and people of Chinese ancestry. I thought the author’s overall concept excellent, but the two stories didn’t mesh as well as they should have. With more time I suspect Ms. Buck would’ve fused the two better. Based on her love of China and all the time she lived there, I’m curious if the race relations issue would’ve been more prominent in a final draft.

Another point that needs to be made: the author made character of Dr. Sharp a flagrant pedophile. For reasons I can’t grasp, many other Nobel Laureates have included a pederast in their work. Andre Gide, Thomas Mann, William Golding, and most recently Mario Vargas Llosa have all written about such characters. What’s with that? I’m waiting to see if Chris Hansen ambush interviews the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

Overall, I thought The Eternal Wonder a very good read. As the author didn’t complete the final draft, it’s not perfect. I still found it an engrossing story. That fact I can write that about a hand written manuscript shows just what phenomenal talent Pearl Buck possessed.

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