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Pavillion of Women by Pearl S. Buck

Pavillion of Women (1946)

by Pearl S. Buck

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The beginning of the book was very promising. It is about an elegant Chinese woman educated in the old traditional way. Since she was young, she was taught that women are no more than the ones responsible for making the family grow, thus they must play their roles as the perfect housewives. Madame Wu, the main character, when reaching the 40th year of her life, feels that her role as a "baby generator" is over. However, she still has one thing in her mind: considering that her husband is still young and perfectly able to make more children, she decides to find him a suitable concubine. It's war time and with all the modernities taking place of ancient habits, the decision is imediately considered dreadful. In any other family, it would be unacceptable. Alas, Madame Wu is the supreme wisdom of the house and her words are the decisive ones.

At first, I thought that the story had all the requirements to be great. The main character is a strong women, full of attitude. Even if she's not the head of the house, the Wu family's perfect harmony was due to her decisions. And no one dares to disobey her. All the power is in her hands and, at the same time that she tries to cut her flesh relations with her husband, she keeps the order in the house in such a way that she always have everything under control, including the family members' happiness. Until the day she met a preacherman with whom she becomes quite interested. That's when the story starts to decay. Not because Madame Wu starts to contradict herself. On the very opposite, she keeps the same opinions from the beginning until the end of the book. What changed was the way she got to those conclusions. And that's exactly what didn't please me. I spent more than half of the book trying to understand why the heck did she stop to think in her charming selfish way. I even dare to say that her behavior changes happened from one page to the next one.

This is the kind of book that I read more because I was curious to know how it was going to end rather than because it was actually good. The conflicts are far from exciting, limiting themselves to regular family disagreements. Reading this book was like walking through a regular plain road: you only walk through it to get to the end. It is great when you think of cultural elements and chinese habits. But I've read better books. ( )
  aryadeschain | Aug 26, 2014 |
Well, this was deep and meaningful literature... There was story (that moved slowly, characters ( just one developed very deeply), and under and through everything, philosophy. Lots of deep thinking and powerful prose...but it often felt heavy-handed & a bit preachy for me. It was not what I expected, and I am glad I read it, but it's not likely to be one I re-read or recommend much. There were quite a few little gems of wisdom and expression. She is obviously a very good writer with a lot of thoughtful things to say. I am glad that I have finally discovered Pearl S. Buck. ( )
  Liciasings | Jun 3, 2013 |
I absolutely adore Pearl S. Buck's writing. That being said, I shall have to go through her entire bibliography in order to satisfy myself. Her prose is a warm bath, complete with the small insights and revelations that often come to one during luxurious respite. 'Pavilion of Women' presents a woman with unparalleled logic and self-control, but who also is ignorant of how coldly she views the rest of the world, those who lack her intelligence and strength of will. Through the course of the novel, she recognizes the mistakes she has made in withdrawing herself from the world and expecting the world to properly continue, and with the help from a foreign priest and a previously foreign emotion, she discovers how to continue existing. I feel I have a soft spot for this book, as I share many of the character traits of the protagonist (albeit not nearly as omniscient), and I love the book for being able to relate to many of its wise remarks on life in general. ( )
  Korrick | Mar 30, 2013 |
"Pavilion of Women" is a multi-dimensional novel about China just prior to WWII. In contrast to "The Good Earth" trilogy, which was about the men in the Wang clan, this is a story of Madame Wu and the women in the Wu family compound.

The story begins on Madame Wu’s 40th Birthday. She is beautiful, sophisticated, intelligent and wealthy. But she is not happy. She has spent her entire life as the devoted child, wife, and mother. She obediently entered an arranged marriage to a man she never loved, subserviently gave birth to his children, modestly attended to everyone’s needs, and unaided by Mr. Wu, managed the family estate.

The ancient custom of China was for married men who tired of their wives to take a concubine or second wife, frequently moving this young, attractive, woman into the family compound. As you can imagine, chaos usually ensued.

This fascinating story presents another perspective. Madame Wu’s husband adores her. He has never looked at another woman. He is not pleased when Madame Wu informs him on her 40th Birthday that she is retiring from his bedroom and not to worry, she will find him a suitable concubine to take her place. Thus, begins this entertaining tale.

While enlightening the reader on chinese customs of traditional family life, Pearl Buck also philosophizes about religion, love, duty, and spiritual fulfillment. She was extremely intuitive of human behavior. And there are many beautiful passages; poetic. An example is her description of getting to the truth, “His manner of answering questions was exceedingly simple.....he knew how to put into a handful of words the essence of truth. He stripped the leaves away, and he plucked the fruit and cracked the husk and peeled the inner shell and split the flesh and took out the seed and divided it and there was the kernel, pure and clean.”

If you are a fan of Pearl Buck, or enjoy reading about China’s ancient customs you would probably enjoy "Pavilion of Women". ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Oct 13, 2011 |
On her 40th birthday, Madam Wu sets in motion changes which she thinks will bring her freedom. By bringing a concubine into her household she sets in motion changes which upset the carefully crafted order. This is a commentary on the role of women in turn of the century China, but it more universal than the chosed time or geographic setting. it also raises many questions about freedom, duty, love and happiness. ( )
1 vote CaptainsGirl | Jan 12, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bovenkamp, J.G.H. van den (Sr.)Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was her fortieth birthday.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155921287X, Paperback)

On her fortieth birthday, Madame Wu carries out a decision she has been planning for a long time: she tells her husband that after twenty-four years their physical life together is now over and she wishes him to take a second wife. The House of Wu, one of the oldest and most revered in China, is thrown into an uproar by her decision, but Madame Wu will not be dissuaded and arranges for a young country girl to come take her place in bed. Elegant and detached, Madame Wu orchestrates this change as she manages everything in the extended household of more than sixty relatives and servants. Alone in her own quarters, she relishes her freedom and reads books she has never been allowed to touch. When her son begins English lessons, she listens, and is soon learning from the "foreigner," a free-thinking priest named Brother Andre, who will change her life. Few books raise so many questions about the nature and roles of men and women, about self-discipline and happiness.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:01 -0400)

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"Nobel Prize-winning American author Pearl Buck's 1946 novel about a Chinese woman who decides to leave her marriage on her fortieth birthday, choosing a concubine for her landed-class husband and moving on to a life of freedom." *** "Madame Wu, at 40, retires from married life, planning to find a concubine for her husband and become a chief manager of the house of Wu."… (more)

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