Unpublished novel by Pearl S. Buck turns up in Fort Worth storage unit

Posted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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In the unlikeliest of finds, a literary treasure by Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck was discovered late last year in Fort Worth in — of all places — a storage locker up for auction.

After the shocking find by the buyer, a woman who asked the Buck estate to let her remain anonymous, the late author’s family took possession of the work for a small finder’s fee.

The completed novel, The Eternal Wonder, apparently finished just before Buck died of cancer in 1973, was unknown to her family and her publishers.

News that the discovery happened in Fort Worth, which was not revealed at the outset, floored Arlington librarian Laureen Jacobs.

“Fort Worth?” she said. “I’ll be darned.”

Buck’s presumably final novel will be published in October, more than 80 years after her landmark work The Good Earth, which shaped Western thinking about China. In a bow to 21st-century tastes, it will come out as an e-book as well.

Two manuscripts, one handwritten and the other typed, have passed muster with Buck experts that they are indeed her work. The book is described as a coming-of-age tale about a young man who ends up on patrol in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and finds romance in his travels.

“It’s a novel that encompasses some of Buck’s common themes: intercultural relationships, travel, China, Asia in general,” said Michael Carlisle, a partner at InkWell Management and a literary agent who represents the Buck estate.

“This is a very, very exciting moment for anybody who loves the oeuvre of Pearl Buck.”

Buck was a daughter of missionaries and lived in China for years. She is best known for The Good Earth, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and has been a staple of high school reading lists and, more recently, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club.

She also won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938 for “her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces,” according to the website Nobelprize.org.

“It is truly incredible to have a new novel by one of only two American women to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes,” publisher Tina Pohlman said.

Author Toni Morrison is the other.

But the mystery remains: How did a manuscript by the prolific Buck, who wrote more than 100 books, including 43 novels, find its way to Fort Worth and inside a storage locker?

That’s “the exciting thing,” Carlisle said.

Buck’s son, Edgar Walsh, recently told NPR that he “had not known that my mother had written this in the last year or two of her life.”

“And I certainly did not know that someone had spirited the manuscript out of a home in which she lived her last years in Vermont and had concealed it from me and the family for 40 years,” he said.

Walsh said he learned in December that a woman in Texas whose business is buying the contents of storage units behind on rent had discovered the work in a unit in Fort Worth.

“I’m grateful that the woman in Texas was careful and literate enough to realize what she had stumbled on,” he said.

“I think the impact is enormous in terms of a writer who is read and studied and has a huge following.”

‘That’s wonderful’

At National Self Storage in Fort Worth, manager Wayne Capson, who oversees 640 units, said he hadn’t heard about the Buck find, although “it’s quite possible.”

He said he holds auctions about once a month after giving storage unit holders a 90-day grace period.

Jacob Crozier, manager of Mike’s Auction House in Fort Worth, said of the literary find: “That’s cool.”

He said his business had a hidden treasure two years ago — a 6-foot, 800-pound Russian bronze statue of three men on horses. It sold for $4,000 but could be worth up to $80,000.

As for Buck’s newly discovered novel, “if it’s by her and it’s real and it’s going to be published, that’s magnificent,” said Clayton Eichelberger, 88, a former English professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who heard Buck lecture in 1941.

“When something like that is discovered, that’s wonderful. She was a wonderful woman.”

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