Pearl of China: a novel, by Anchee Min. Bloomsbury, 2010.

Willow is almost a street-child; she steals and begs under the direction of her father in order to eat. By chance - and quite reluctantly - she becomes friends with the missioner's daughter, Pearl, and the rest of this fictional biography of Pearl Buck follows.

Willow never existed; but by creating this fictional lifelong friend, author Min provided a vehicle for an outsider's view of the circumstances of Pearl's life in China. The narrative follows them from childhood to old age.

Although the facts may be adjusted and the reviews are mixed, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the missionary experience of Pearl's father and the rest of her family, and about the characters that brought the religious assimilation to life. It reminds me of Kinsolver's Poisonwood Bible, and also of Brooks's Caleb's Crossing, which both also explore missionary zeal.

Min lived through the times described in the setting - Mao's rise and fall - and eventually emigrated to the United States, where she lives today. Like Pearl, her works are banned in China, and for the same reasons. They depict a reality that is uncomfortable.