Hilary Spurling talks to Curious Book Fans

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Pearl Buck (1892-1973) was the first person to make China accessible to the West. She recreated the lives of ordinary Chinese people in “The Good Earth“, an overnight worldwide bestseller in 1932, later a blockbuster movie. “The Good Earth” still sells around 10,000 copies in the UK every year. Buck went on to become the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Pearl Buck
Pearl Buck

The biography of Pearl Buck has been published by Profile Books on April 1st, 2010. Apart from reviewing the book “Burying the Bones – Pearl Buck in China” we were curious to hear a little bit more from Hilary Spurling, the author of this extraordinary biography.


CBF: Why did you choose Pearl Buck as a subject to write about?

Hilary Spurling: I chose Pearl Buck because I’ve wanted all my life to write a book about 20th-century China and, as a literary biographer, she was the obvious subject. After that, of course, I became totally fascinated by her, by her unique achievements and her extraordinary story.

CBF: How much time did you spend researching and writing the book?

Hilary Spurling: It was two years’ research, and seven months to write.

CBF: How much time did you spend in China researching Pearl Buck and what was the attitude of the Chinese people towards your research?

Hilary Spurling: Six weeks – everyone I met was extremely helpful – but Buck was a public enemy under Chairman Mao in China. People were routinely obliged to denounce her & her works. Anyone who knew her was heavily punished for it. So it was not possible to do the kind of research I would expect to do in Europe or America. Incidentally, Pearl Buck was voted one of the Top Ten International Friends of China by Chinese State Radio in November, 2009, one month after I finished my book about her.

CBF: Now that you have done so much research into Chinese history, are you tempted to write a biography of another famous person with a Chinese background? If so, who?

Hilary Spurling: Once was enough…

CBF: Are there any plans to translate the book into Chinese?

Hilary Spurling: Many Chinese friends have written from China to ask if they might translate it but the decision does not lie with me – the translator will be chosen by whichever Chinese publishing firm acquires the rights to the book. There is already a great deal of interest, especially in view of Buck’s changing status in China.

Hilary Spurling, author of "Burying the Bones"
Hilary Spurling

Hilary Spurling is the author of The Unknown Matisse and Matisse the Master which won the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Los Angeles Times biography prize in 2005. Her biography of Ivy Compton-Burnett won the Heinemann and Duff Cooper prizes. She has also written lives of Paul Scott, La Grande Thérèse (Profile) and Sonia Orwell. She has been theatre critic and literary editor of the Spectator, and a lead book reviewer for the Observer and Telegraph. She founded the Royal Literary Fund’s Fellowship Scheme for writers, and lives in London.

Thanks to Hilary Spurling, Profile Books and sunmeilan for making this mini-interview for all curious book fans. You can read the review of  Burying the Bones by following this link.

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Written by sunmeilan