I enjoyed Pearl S. Buck’s novels The Good Earth, The Angry Wife and God’s Men. I did not get that sense of pleasure with Come, My Beloved. My major criticism about this work is that it has a very s-l-o-w start. We are introduced to David Hardworth MacArd and his son of the same name and their mission in pre-independence India. Gandhi and the nationalist movement are prominently in the background and are viewed as threats to the MacArd mission. In spite of this perceived threat, nothing really happens until page 122, almost halfway through the book, when the son brings his new wife Olivia from the US to India. The MacArds spend their time educating the locals in the MacArd ways, spreading their own personal philosophies as well as the word of God throughout the country.
I spent almost the entire length of the novel waiting for the exciting blurb on the back cover to happen:
“Brought up from birth by Indian customs, Livy was the fourth generation of her American family living in India. Her father and grandparents before her had done much for India in their own stubborn God-fearing way. But now a new spirit of independence stirred in the land, and Livy–part of the changing times–was in love…with a native doctor.
‘No!’ said her missionary father when Livy wanted to marry her Indian lover. ‘I cannot allow it!'”
The character Livy, however, is not introduced until page 243–and the novel is only 279 pages long. Until I read her name I sincerely wondered if the publishers got the blurbs mixed up with another novel. One might believe that Livy would be a central character, but she is nothing more than a minor presence who doesn’t stick around for any length of time to give a damn about her. Does she marry her Indian doctor lover? Does her father Ted (David MacArd, Jr.’s son) consent to the marriage? Who cares! In her past novels Buck did not disappoint, but Come, My Beloved is an uneventful tale about four generations of a missionary family whose men and women tend to fall in love and propose after only a couple meetings. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the novel so literally, but the patriarchs of the MacArd family are all too quick to slip wedding rings on fingers of virtual strangers.
Buck paints brilliant descriptions, and I liked this image of a sunset:
“The sun was sinking into the Red Sea in a fury of dying color. Heat smouldered along the horizon, it inflamed the half clouded sky and as the sun touched the water the hot light ran across the smooth sullen water like liquid metal.”
Even when the story lagged I wanted to go on because I could always succumb to the scenic portraits of rural Indian life. In two of the prior novels I had read, Buck had me hooked with her descriptions of China and I loved her way with words as she described monsoons and even famine in India. Buck lived in China and wrote about it as a native would perceive it; although she did not live in India, she brought to her writing the same sense of intimate acquaintance with her mise-en-scène.