Pearl S Buck’s first novel ‘East Wind:West Wind’ written in 1930 is still relevant today. Buck writes about the period of transition from the ‘old’ way of life to the ‘new’ way through the narrator Kwei-lan.
Kwei-lan is a young woman brought up in the traditional way by a mother who is of the opinion that learning has never accompanied beauty in women. She is married to a man educated in the west and he is initially disappointed with his traditionally bred wife and Kwei-lan is shocked by her husband’s westernised dressing, habits and thoughts. She represents the change taking place in the society and the tricky time when one foot is in the traditional way of life and the other in the new way. Her family is torn apart by the tides of change and hope comes in the form of the next generation.
Buck’s novel is written beautifully capturing the turmoil, the reluctant acceptance of change and the hope for a better future that combines the best of both worlds. The language of the narrator Kwei-lan is filled with local imagery and this shows how well Buck knew the Chinese language and culture. Here’s an example,
‘But how can such stiff and formal moulds contain the spirit-essence of love? It is as if one tried to imprison a rosy cloud within an iron vessel. It is like painting butterflies with a harsh brush of bamboo.’
Pearl S Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature and her first novel – East Wind: West Wind is definitely worth a read. I first came across her writing in the form of the short story ‘The Refugee’ which is a moving tale of a proud farmer who is forced to move to the city with his grandson after the floods and the apathy of the city dwellers. Can’t wait to read her most acclaimed work ‘The Good Earth’.