Author: Pearl S. Buck
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
East Wind West Wind is an appealing tale written by Pearl S. Buck in 1930 and despite the many years since publication and the vast changes that occurred in China since then, it still offers insight to readers about the differences between Chinese and American perspective. This tale is a love story and a tragedy.
The narrator, Kwei-lan, is a young girl who tells her story to her unnamed “sister” a foreigner who has spent time in China because she could understand the challenges she faced marrying a man who embraced Western ways. This technique of writing to a specific known audience allows the author to start a tale of events that occurred earlier and begin her tale in a confessional tone. The confessional tone entices the reader into the tale because she offers secrets known to no other.
The author also starts the tale where the action begins by placing the young narrator at the time of her marriage. She immediately confesses to not wanting involvement in having babies and the ill-ease she has of marrying a stranger to who she was betrothed at the age of six years old, especially one who has foreign ways. This theme of western culture coming to change eastern culture is evident in the title and the first paragraphs of the story. Also immediately present is the calamity that foreign behavior has caused her. Her husband pays no attention to her at all, even though she is quite beautiful and to make matters worse, it is clear by several of her statements that she loves her husband.
The tale progresses in linear fashion until eventually, the mysterious sister arrives. One fascinating aspect of this tale is how the impact of western culture on eastern culture is told from two different perspectives with two different results. Hidden behind the tale is the idea that people inside a culture will have difficulty in finding fault with their own lifestyle until the second culture arrives and then the comparison brings out good and bad features of both. The two marriages, sister to her child betrothal, brother breaking his betrothal to marry a foreigner shows the degrees of what Chinese society found acceptable.
Kwei-lan becomes a real character for the reader as she faces the task of winning her husband’s love and when facing the consequences of her brother’s marriage to a foreign woman. Her family life challenges her to find solutions to the crisis of culture conflict although not all resolve successfully. She is an appealing character because she can find ways to improve her life and her happiness while accepting limitations. Strong supporting roles are conveyed well by the brother and Kwei-lan’s foreign sister, but the voice of the tale is via Kwei-lan’s point of view. Pearl S. Buck makes Kwei-lan’s tale believable via the rich details she provides about Chinese society including training, foot binding, betrothal, life of concubines, prayers for babies. She also uses good culture specific attitudes such as her inability to speak until given permission, her willingness to act as go-between and the mother’s acceptance of total loss at her death.
This story is a pleasing romance and a historical moment in Chinese history as a family is torn apart while making the next generation.