Category Archives: Pearl S. Buck

The Living Reed

It is our fate, lying as we do between many powers, to be influenced to an extent by all and many. It is our task to accept and reject, to weld and mingle and out of our many factions to create ourselves, the One, an independent nation.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is elegant, and she’s a consummate storyteller. With my new fascination with all things Korea, I was particularly interested in reading her novel, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. It has taken me awhile to read it because I’m much slower reading actual books these days (eye fatigue) and it was not available on audiobook. But I’m glad I stuck with it, reading a little bit each day, and therefore enjoying it even more than if I had rushed through it.

from the publisher:

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.

As the chronicle begins, the Kims are living comfortably as advisors to the Korean royal family. But that world is torn apart with the Japanese invasion, when the queen is killed and the Kims are thrust into hiding. Through their story, Buck traces the country’s journey from the late nineteenth century through the end of the Second World War.

The story begins with Il-han, scholar and advisor to the queen. In order to be a better advisor, he leaves his family and travels around Korea. Throughout his travels, he finds a deep love for his country and his people.

With what words shall a man tell of love for his country? Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, Il-han was conceived in the earth of his native land. His ancestors had created him through their life. The air they breathed, the waters they drank, the fruits they ate, belonged to the earth and from their dust he was born.

…He went his way swiftly then, content to do so as he perceived each day now fully the quality of his people. They were brave, they were strong, enduring hardship not only with courage but with a noble gaiety. Expecting nothing either of gods or rulers, they were grateful for small good fortune. Their strength was in themselves and in one another. They could be cruel and they were kind. They fought nature in storm and cold and under bleak skies, but they fought side by side and together. He loved them.

His sons become the next focus of the story, and their story is of the transition from the brutal ending of the Joseon period through invasion by the Japanese. Despite rebellion and revolution, the new order in the 1900s became a long occupation and suppression of the Korean culture. My husband and I had recently watched the Korean drama, Mr. Sunshine, which takes place during this transition time in Korea. It is a series (on Netflix) well worth watching — beautifully written and filmed! It provided a wonderful visual understanding of that tumultuous period of time, and went beautifully with Ms. Buck’s epic story.

The surviving son of Il-han became a revolutionary, and his story, and the story of his son, takes us through the Second World War, with all the complexities of the struggle for Korean independence. A conversation between the old scholar and his son best described the strength of the Korean people over time, and why they survived continual invasion and oppression by the surrounding countries.

“I remember the day my brother was born, and I broke the bamboo shoots, and you told me they would never come up again. You were right, of course, those broken shoots did not grow again. Hollow reeds, you called them. I felt my heart ready to break at what I had done. But then you told me that other reeds would come up to take their place. And every spring I went to the bamboo grove to see if what you said was true. It was always true.”

…“What do you tell me?” Il-han demanded. “This,” Yul-chun said, “that if you never see me again, or never hear my name again, remember—I am only a hollow reed. Yet if I am broken, hundreds take my place—living reeds!”

This book was truly an epic story, and knowing very little about Korean history, I enjoyed learning about it through Pearl Buck’s research and insightful understanding of the culture and character of the Korean people.

This book was one of my choices on my list of 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club. It is also part of my personal challenge to read the works of Pearl Buck. And it add to my education about Korea!

Currently Reading: The Living Reed

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.”

I am completely caught up in Pearl S. Buck’s, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. Her writing is so elegant, and her storytelling carries you away. That’s why I love reading her novels.

A Bridge for Passing


How quickly, in one instant, years of happy life become only memories!

A Bridge for Passing, by Pearl S. Buck, was an interesting  end for my 2014 reading year. Buck is a favorite author of mine, and I read her books slowly, absorbing her words and wisdom, enjoying the beauty of her prose.

TheBigWaveI hadn’t heard of this book before, but when I saw the description of it, I knew it was my next read by her. One of my all time favorites of her books is The Big Wave, a story about life and death and what it means to be Japanese. I loved sharing it with my 6th grade students when I was teaching and we were studying the Pacific Rim countries. The discussions were so powerful. A Bridge for Passing is a memoir of the time when Buck was in Japan for the filming of The Big Wave. She had written the screenplay. During that time, she received word of the death of her husband, Richard Walsh. Her experiences in Japan at such a sad and difficult time provided solace and perspective, and became a “bridge” into her new life alone without her beloved husband. What an interesting experience to read this poignant book about grief and renewal, with its fascinating connection to another book I love!


From the Archives: Christmas Day in the Morning

A post this morning from the archives of my blog. I’ve just finished rereading one of my favorite Christmas books. This post, shared with you a number of years ago, tells the story of my discovery of this lovely book and how I used it each year in my classroom. Now that I’m retired, I miss sharing it with children. It became a wonderful part of my yearly holiday tradition. Perhaps you will carry on my little tradition of introducing the idea of a “gift of love” to the young people in your lives by sharing this lovely book with them. Happy Holidays to you all!

Originally posted December 16, 2009

I don’t remember how I discovered this beautiful little book, but when I saw that it was written by Pearl S. Buck, I knew I had to have it.  Christmas Day in the Morning is a treasure. It’s one of the most beautiful holiday books I’ve ever read — both the story and the illustrations (by Mark Buehner).  The true meaning of the holidays is shared in beautiful language and a very simple story.

The story is a memory of a Christmas long ago. The older man who tells the story remembers the Christmas 50 years ago, when he was 14, and how he overheard his parents talking on Christmas Eve and realized for the first time in his life that his father loved him.  He was so thrilled and wanted to give his father an extra special gift, but it was too late and there was no money left anyway.  So he decided to get up extra early and milk the cows before his father awoke.  It was a beautiful gesture, and a true gift of love, and his father was deeply touched by it.

I read this book to my 2nd graders this morning and they immediately wanted to do something for their families .  Each one of them wants to give a “gift of love,” so we worked on making holiday cards with a “gift of love” coupon inside.  One of the boys came to me and said, “I know what I can give my parents–I make a really good breakfast.”  I’m excited to see what other gifts of love my students decide to give their parents.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors, and this book is her own gift of love to us.  It’s a book every family should share at this time of year.

The Water-Buffalo Children

The Water-Buffalo Children, by Pearl S. Buck, is a delightful story for 6-9 year olds (and for our inner child as grown-ups).  It’s actually a story out of Buck’s own childhood in China, and the book is written in the format of a mother telling her children this memory/story in front of the fireplace one evening.  It was published in 1943, and in the beginning the style of this book seems somewhat old-fashioned, but Buck soon moves right into the storytelling, and we are carried away by the story of these three young children–one little American girl, a Chinese brother and little sister, and a water-buffalo.

From the publisher:

One afternoon when the author was a little girl in China, she was reading about Aladdin and wondering if she could find anything magic near her.  She picked up a stone and rubbed it.

Suddenly out of the tall grass, the huge face of Da Lobo, the Big Turnip, appeared.  She looked up and saw the Water-Buffalo children, Farmer Ching’s son and daughter, riding on the Water-Buffalo’s back.

The little American girl thought the magic stone had brought them there.  The Water-Buffalo children insisted they had been coming anyhow.

But whether or not the stone was magic and what they did to find out is the story which the author tells here for her own and other American children that they may know and enjoy the Chinese children.

As a grandma and as a teacher, I feel it’s so important to introduce young children to other cultures, which was something Pearl S. Buck did brilliantly in each of her books for children.  This book gives a joyful glimpse of another culture and the experience of one young girl as the “foreigner” in the neighborhood.  It’s a sweet little book, and I’m going to try it out on my 2nd graders after the holidays to see what they think…

I read this book for my personal Reading Pearl challenge, and for J Kaye’s Support Your Local Library Challenge.