The Living Reed

Pearl Buck is best known for her books published in the 1930’s, especially The Good Earth in 1931, her second novel. It was good enough to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature the next year, and in  1938 she received the Nobel Prize for literature.

While most of her books were set in China where she grew up the daughter of missionaries and where she was also a missionary until missionaries were ordered out of the country. This book, as you can see, is set in Korea. It was published in 1963, but the story ends in 1945.

It is the story of the high ranking Kim family (Kim is the Smith & Jones of Korea) the head of which was a scholar and advisor to the Queen. His two sons take different paths as do the grandsons, yet each play an important role in the history.

This is not her best work but it is an excellent history of Korea caught between the weakening China, their longtime protector, and the rising power of Japan in the late Nineteenth Century. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and forced everyone to learn Japanese and become Japanese (as they did in other territories). That brutal rule lasted until the end of the war.

The book in print form is 604 pages long and could have easily been cut to 400 without losing anything, but those pages would be and are worth the read. I really did not have an issue with the writing until about the 75% mark.

Mike Lawrence

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