Copyright date: 1931
My Rating: A+
The Good Earth is one of my lifetime-favorite reads. It was a pick for a recent book club. I was surprised that I was the only one to have previously read this great classic. As I suspected, everyone of our club members was enthusiastic about it. So, in case you missed it too, let me tell you about it.
The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung, a poor farmer in China around the turn of the twentieth century. The story opens on his wedding day to O-lan, a servant he has purchased from a neighboring wealthy family. Life changes immediately for Wang Lung as his wife is organized and a hard worker. She even joins him in the fields, and most importantly, begins bearing him sons.
The fortunes of the Wang family begin to change for the better, and then, the drought hits their part of the country. Even though they have been conservative, their bellies begin to grow hungry. Wang Lung sells everything except the land in order to get enough money to travel south to the big city where they hope to find jobs.
Life in the city is very different for this rural family. Wang Lung finds a job driving a richshaw, but O-lan and the children must beg on the streets. There is growing unrest in the city and soon rioting and looting break out. Both Wang Lung and O-lan profit from this and soon they are heading back home.
The rest of the story follows the ups and downs of Wang Lung and hence the family. He does well and makes good decisions. He also makes some foolish mistakes. Over the course of his life, Wang Lung is faithful to his land. Thus, The Good Earth is a fitting title for this story. The Good Earth is Book One of a trilogy. The story of Wang Lung’s future generations is told in Sons and A House Divided. But don’t despair; the book stands alone as a complete work of fiction.
There are so many things to like about this novel. I find it a good representation of the many foibles found in human nature. The story takes place in China but the behaviors of Wang Lung and his family can be seen all over the world. This is also a good look at the “old” China before the communists came to power. And, of course, the writing is superb. Ms. Buck won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for this novel in 1932.
For a change of pace, I listened to the audio version of this story. Anthony Heald did an excellent job as the narrator. I strongly recommend The Good Earth.
Pearl S. Buck (1892 – 1973) was the daughter of American missionaries to China. She spent her early years in China and considered this trilogy to be in the tradition of Chinese novels. Although Ms. Buck is well known for The Good Earth, she actually wrote thirty-two novels. In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Ms. Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. The Nobel website has several interesting pages devoted to her. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her speech/lecture she gave in Sweden as part of her acceptance address. You can find it here: Pearl Buck.