Writing Across the Pacific

Michael Gibbs Hill reviews Transpacific Community by Richard Jean So

My collection of Chinese writer and linguist Lin Yutang’s books in English was acquired for $1.50 in total. My Country and My People and With Love and Irony came out of a box marked “FREE PLEASE TAKE” in the lobby of the apartment building where I used to live in Washington Heights, New York. For two whole quarters I got The Importance of Living and The Wisdom of Confucius at a yard sale in Seattle, and my biggest purchase, a second edition of Moment in Peking, cost a buck at His House, a Christian resale shop on the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina.

I might not have paid much, but in Lin Yutang’s case, price is no reflection of quality. Mostly forgotten today, his books lurk in church basements and on grandparents’ bookshelves across North America. The same goes for Lin’s contemporary, Pearl Buck. When I lived in Taipei in the late 90s, the used bookstore in my neighborhood had a pile of four or five copies of The Good Earth in Chinese. The only copy without mildew went for the price of a sugary milk tea sold from a street-side stall.