Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck (audio)

Pavilion of Women
by Pearl S. Buck, 1946
Oasis Audio Production
read by Adam Verner
12 CD's,  15.25 hours

source: won from Oasis Audio through FridayReads twitter meme

In a nutshell: 
Madame Wu, mistress of an old and respected Chinese family, decides to implement major changes in her household as she reaches the milestone of her fortieth birthday, beginning with the addition of a second wife for her husband as she 'retires' from her physical duties.

My thoughts:
Heralding the beginning of a new phase of life, a woman's fortieth birthday held special significance in the great families of pre-communist China. The novel opens as Madame Wu prepares for her celebration.
"The first part of her life was over and the second part was about to begin.  She did not fear age, for age had its honors for her. She would with each year gain in dignity and in the respect of her family and her friends.  Nor was she afraid of losing her beauty, for she had allowed it to change with the years so subtly that it was still more apparent than her years.  She no longer wore the flowering colors of her youth, but the delicacy of her face and skin were as clear now as ever against the soft silver blues and gray greens of her costumes.  The whole effect of age upon her was one of refining and exalting rather than loss."  page 6
After careful deliberation, she enters into the second phase of life by selecting a second wife for her husband.
"Why had Heaven not made women twice as long-lived as men, so that their beauty and fertility might last as long as man lived and fade only with the generation? Why should a man's need to plant his seed continue too long for fulfillment in one woman?" page 34 
In addition to wielding much power within the family, Madame Wu is also a highly intelligent woman, an attribute both praised and lamented by her late father-in-law.
"Your mind is an excellent one for a woman... I would even say, my daughter, that had your brains been inside the skull of a man, you would have sat for the Imperial Examinations and passed them with honor and thereby become an official in the land. But your brain is not in a man's skull.  It is in a woman's skull.  A woman's blood infuses it, a woman's heart beats through it, and it is circumscribed by what must be a woman's life.  In a woman it is not well for the brain to grow beyond the body." page 60
When a foreign priest, Brother Andre, is employed to teach her son English, Madame Wu has initial misgivings and insists language be the only thing taught. However, she soon finds herself drawn to both the man and his ideas.

With all that said, I suppose Pavilion of Women could be viewed as the ultimate midlife crisis in an exotic setting, but in reality, it is so much more.  Buck's familiarity with the country is evident, and her keen insight into Chinese culture, customs, and family dynamics shines through.

My rating:

A note on the audio production:
The reader, Adam Verner, did an excellent job capturing the elegance, grace, and calm of Madame Wu, and the entire Wu household.  The narration was perfectly suited to the text, but I initially had trouble adjusting to the slow pace.  Still, it took less than one disc before I was entranced.

note: There were many profound passages I wanted to reread and share, so I borrowed an ancient copy of the book from my library.

Bottom line:
I loved Pavilion of Women and plan to read much more by Pearl Buck, beginning with a reread of The Good Earth. Highly recommended.


  1. Thanks for the review, JoAnn. Glad you enjoyed your winnings! :-)

  2. This sounds like a wonderful book. I adored The Good Earth and need to read more Buck!

  3. Just so I get the whole picture here...does the second wife take over any of the housework as well?

  4. I enjoyed many of Buck's novels when I was young. I can recommend "Peony" (about Jews in China) and "Imperial Woman" if you haven't read then yet. Many people don't know that The Good Earth was only the first in a trilogy, following the same family in China. The others are "Sons" and "A House Divided", in that order. Some have said they are not as strong as the first book but I enjoyed the whole trilogy.
    I'd love to hear some of those profound passages if you decide to post them. They'd fit right into Bookish Ruth's "Quotes" meme, which she is restarting on Friday.
    Just an idea, if it interests you:


    I look forward to more of your thoughts on Pearl Buck's work.

  5. This sounds so good -- I've wanted to read more PSB since I read The Good Earth. I have two more of her books on my TBR shelf, Peony and East Wind, West Wind. I'm glad to see Sandra recommended Peony and now I want to read Pavilion of Women as well!

  6. I have only read The Good Earth but loved it; this sounds good too! Thanks for the review!

  7. jsmith - And thank you again for the audiobook. It was fantastic!

    Nymeth - This is my first Buck since The Good Earth. I know there will be more!

    Darlene - No women in the House of Wu do housework... that's what all the servants are for ;-)

    Sandra - I read a review of Peony not too long ago and added it to my wish list. Sons is on my shelf, but I'll need to reread The Good Earth to really enjoy it. It's been too long!

    Karenlibrarian - I wish I could remember who reviewed Peony recently, but it made me want to read it immediately! Just love Buck's writing...

    Rhapsodyinbooks - The Good Earth was the only Buck I'd read before this one, but there will definitely more in my future!

  8. I know this is the way things worked back then, and is a serious topic, but I had to chuckle. I think more than a few women I know would employ the same strategy, especially if the housework is already taken care of by servants! It seems like I am missing out on a great author here. I'm off to see what awaits me in audio at the library by Buck.

  9. I've never read anything by Pearl Buck. Obviously, I need to change that! Thanks, JoAnn.

  10. Sounds wonderful! And it sounds like a good one to check out on audio. I've never read Buck, can you believe that?

  11. I loved The Good Earth and should read this one sometime..I'm curious about the Chinese culture.

  12. Sandy - Your comment has me chuckling... lots of truth there, I'm sure! Hope you can find some of PSB's books.

    Diane - It really was!

    DS - Yes, you definitely do ;-)

    Marie - I've been surprised by the number of bloggers who have not read Pearl Buck. She is wonderful.

    Staci - If you liked The Good Earth, I'm sure you'd enjoy this one, too.

  13. JoAnn you are not helping my book addiction AT ALL!! I was just pondering over an audio book...I think I have made my choice!

  14. Pavilion of Women is my favorite Pearl Buck book. If you enjoy her work, you may want to give Anchee Min a try also.

  15. Vern - Sorry ;-) Once you adjust to the slow pace of the reader, this is absolutely wonderful.

    Reads4Pleasure - You're the first person I've met who has read this book! I'm not sure whether to read Peony next or give The Good Earth a quick reread and continue on with Sons. I read Anchee Min's Red Azalea about 10 years ago with my book club and loved it. Can you recommend any of her other work?

  16. I'm pretty unfamiliar with Buck's novels outside of The Good Earth (which I haven't read), but this sounds really wonderful and interesting. Chinese culture has always been so fascinating to me and I'd love to understand it better.

    Curious--where do you get your audios from? Do you check most out from the library? As I'm finding myself listening more and more, I'm trying to figure out the best way to access audio versions without spending an arm and leg on itunes.

  17. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this. I definitely need to chip away at reading the Buck books in my collection. :)

  18. Trish - My audios mostly come from audible.com. I've had a membership there for years - you pay a flat fee and get credits to use throughout the year and they let you roll over up to 6 of them. Now that I can download books through the library, I'm tempted to give it up, but I love the convenience and not having to wait.

    Everybookandcranny - It's time for me to grow my Buck collection!


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