Author: Anchee Min
Read By: Angela Lin
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication Year: 2010
Listened To: June 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Fiction audiobooks are generally not my thing (nor Alyssa's). I usually can read faster than someone else can read to me, many voices readers use for characters don’t sound like the way I’d read them from the page, and most importantly—listening to bedroom scenes destroys any pleasure I’d have in them on the page. So when I won a collection of audiobooks from my library’s summer reading raffle a few summers ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever listen to the fiction selections.
Following a few soporific nonfiction titles I chose from my library (Guns, Germs and Steel and The Revenge of Geography) I decided to try fiction again. Unfitting voices at least can keep me awake while driving; I remain thankful that I caught myself before falling asleep at the wheel while listening to geography studies (DWB—driving while bored).
By luck, the first novel on my iTunes playlist this month was Pearl of China, which I didn’t realize until midway through listening was the historical fiction version of Pearl S. Buck’s life. A few days later I was baking muffins galore because scurrying around the kitchen would give me an excuse to keep listening to the book. I’m giving up on geography books—the history parts of Pearl of China (spanning the last emperor of China through the death of Madame Mao) fully absorbed me.
It isn’t just the history in the novel that makes it enjoyable listening; the main character, Willow (Pearl’s childhood best friend in the story), is courageous and resilient. My impression from women’s literature set in China has been that women’s lives were miserable and that no matter how intelligent they were, they’d get caught by institutional violence. However important such tragic stories are, it’s hard to listen to them. Pearl of China upended the tragic battered wife stereotype by making women escape their marriages and find intellectual fulfillment in universities and publishing, and some romantic fulfillment in new partners. These successes do not mean that Willow and other characters necessarily have easy lives after escaping marriage, but it makes them the force behind what happens to them later in life. It’s also worth noting that Willow’s choices in the second half of her long life (~50-80 years old) are the ones that show her true strength, and that all the other senior citizen characters are autonomous and active. So double well done to Anchee Min—independent women AND senior citizens!
Angela Lin, the audiobook reader, does a very good job. She varies voices for characters without exaggerated affectations. Best, she sings haunting excerpts of songs.