WASHINGTON In the unlikeliest of finds, a literary treasure by Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck was discovered late last year in Fort Worth, Texas, and in, of all places, a storage locker up for auction .
The shocking find by the buyer of the unit, a woman who asked the Buck estate to allow her to remain anonymous, led the late author’s family to take possession of the find after paying the woman a small finder’s fee. The completed novel, “The Eternal Wonder,” apparently finished just before her 1973 death from cancer, was unknown to her family or to her publishers.
News that the Buck discovery turned up in Fort Worth, which was not revealed at the outset, floored Arlington, Texas, 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 since her landmark work, “The Good Earth,” which shaped Western thinking about China. In a bow to the 21st century tastes, it will be come out as an e-book, as well.
Two manuscripts, one handwritten and the other typed, have passed muster with Buck experts that it is, indeed, her work. The book is described as a coming-of-age tale of a young man who ends up on patrol in the Korean demilitarized zone and in his travels finds love and romance.
“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 and 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 many years. She is best known for “The Good Earth,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1931 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 Nobelprize.org website.
“It is truly incredible to have a new novel by one of only two American women to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes,” said publisher Tina Pohlman.
Author Toni Morrison also won both prizes.
But the mystery remains: how did the manuscript of the prolific Buck, who wrote more than 100 books, including 43 novels, find its way to Fort Worth, and the inside of a storage locker?
That’s “the exciting thing,” Carlisle said.
Buck’s son, Edgar Walsh, told NPR in a recent interview 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.
Walsh said he learned in December that a woman in Texas whose business was buying storage units behind in rent had purchased a unit in Fort Worth and discovered the manuscript. And she wanted to sell it.
“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.”
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 that he held auctions about once a month after giving storage unit holders 90 days 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 which sold for $4,000, but could possibly be worth as much as $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 former University of Texas-Arlington English professor Clayton Eichelberger, 88, who heard Buck lecture in 1941. “When something like that is discovered, that’s wonderful. She was a wonderful woman.”