Burying the Bones by Hilary Spurling, abridged by Alison Joseph

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Burying the Bones by Hilary Spurling, abridged by Alison Joseph (2010). Dir. Kirsteen Cameron. Perf. Lindsay Duncan. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 2-6 March 2015. BBCiPlayer to 5 Apr. 2015.

Pearl S. Buck was the highly influential author of "The Good Earth" and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first woman to do so, and only the second in history (Toni Morrison was the other).

Her life was if anything even more fantastic and noteworthy than her novels. Born in China to a family of Christian missionaries, she led a peripatetic life, shutting between China and the United States, with a father who seemed more interested in his religious work than family affairs, and a mother who cared for her but kept suffering the trauma of losing her siblings due to disease. She had a loveless childhood that transformed her into something of a loner, but her experiences of living in China gave her a genuinely bicultural view of life.

Like many women of the early twentieth century, she married someone she did not really love; and it seemed that all her experiences in China might have been wasted as she appeared to be trapped in a life of drudgery. Like many others, she turned to writing as a means of release from boredom; and soon discovered that she had a palpable talent for it. Her short stories were readily accepted, and this was soon followed by the publication of "The Good Earth," a nationwide best-seller.

Her husband proved reluctant to accompany her, so her agent did most of the chaperoning, as Buck toured America giving lectures and trying to publicize the book. Their relationship grew closer and closer, so much so that Buck eventually divorced her husband and married her agent instead.

The remainder of her life was spent in relative comfort, as she looked after her new husband's children and settled down to the kind of quiet domesticity that she never experienced during her formative years. She lived on well into her eighties, a respected figure whose work on China inspired a variety of others, both Chinese as well as American.

Lindsay Duncan's quiet, low-key reading admirably communicated the vicissitudes of an extraordinary life. Definitely worth a listen.