on January 1, 2013
I first read "The Good Earth" when I was a teenager. I vividly remember the feelings of profound sadness as I turned the pages, reading about O-Lan's interminable sufferings. She was sold from slavery into an arranged marriage, did back-breaking labour on her husband's farm, lived through drought and famine and the loss of her children. Even after O-Lan's husband achieved wealth and success, he turned to drinking, gambling and womanizing. The question is: how did O-Lan actually perceive her life? Did her stoicism originate from resignation to fate (acquired from growing up as a family slave)? Or did O-Lan have true grit, an undomitable will to survive and endless hope that the future can only be better?
I believe Pearl S. Buck was mostly accurate in her portrayal of life in China in the early 20th century. What she described in her books matched the stories told to me by my grandmother, who had spent part of her childhood in China prior to WWII.
There is no happy ending to this story for O-Lan, but make no mistake - she is the true heroine in this novel.
on June 3, 2010
THE GOOD EARTH, Pearl Buck, Washington Sq. Press, 1931, pp357
This novel should be read before SONS which is a continuation of The Good Earth. Pearl lived in China a great deal of her life and what she writes in her novels reveals much about Chinese life in the early 1900's. This novel is about Wang Lung, a very poor farmer who ekes out a living from his meagre land which barely sustains him and his father. He is about to be married.
His life is arduous and totally dependent on what he produces from the land. He represents the utterly poor of China and through Pearl's first-hand knowledge, we get glimpses of how gruesome life must have been. The story centres around Wang and his children as they grow up and the father's hopes for each. He recognizes and values that it is the land which sustains them, and he continues to buy any available. Unfortunately, as he gains in wealth, he and the children lose sight of the source of this wealth and the further removed from the land they become, the more serious the consequences: 'Land is one's flesh and blood.' (p. 52)
Even if one loves the land however, one is subject to the whims of nature and man's interference. So we experience such hardships as backbreaking work and hours, storms, floods, drought, grasshoppers and wars. The good years and harvests are rewarding but the hardships mean life and death. Pearl doesn't invent these hardships ' millions of Chinese starved to death and millions more died due to robbers, lords of war and rebellions. She alludes to most of these.
Wang's first love is the land but as they age, the children distract him away. We get glimpses of the rich man's life, his servants, his way of life and his abundant choice foods. In opposition, we are constantly reminded that the majority in China are destitute just barely surviving while these greedy selfish men refuse to share. His children, his eventual yielding to the flesh and his pride lead to his downfall. He is never to find the peace he so desires in old age until: 'But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for his land. He had gone away from it....But his roots were in his land and although he forgot it many months....still he must needs go and he went.' (p. 353)
The Good Earth is a real life human tragedy and it is not a book one puts down easily as it unfolds. His devotion to his children, his kindness to his wife whom he did not love and replaced with another, his disappointments with their lives and especially that not one will carry on his legacy with the land, his daughter the Fool, all these events could occur in any household and the outcomes could be the same depending if we chose the path Wang did.
The detail Pearl provides about the impoverished and the wealthy Chinese could only be grasped by one with such intimate first- hand knowledge. Typically, she also includes a handicapped child based again on her own daughter's life.
This is a classic and in many secondary schools, it is required reading. The insights into the Chinese way of life are abundant and the human experiences are lessons for anyone in any place and time.
Published in 1931, this story is set in rural, pre-revolution China. Author Pearl S. Buck was born in the United States but moved with her family to China while she was still an infant. She lived most of her first forty years in China.
This book tells the story of a poor farmer named Wang Lung. He wants to marry, yet doesn't have to money for a match maker. His father goes to the local wealthy family, the House of Hwang, and asks for a slave to be the wife for his son.
From his wedding day forward, the fortunes of Wang and his new wife O-Lan change, mostly for the better. Not only does O-Lan run the house most efficiently, she also helps with the old father and with the farming. Two sets of hands in the fields lead to increased crop yields and money.
As I was listening to this audio book, I wondered if Mrs. Buck had accurately presented the lives of farmers in China at that time. Several reviews that I checked confirm my impressions.
The other thing that struck me about this book was how the author was able to portray the desperation of the people during the various hardships. The stoic acceptance by O-Lan of the death of her second daughter, born during the drought. I couldn't imagine what Wang went through when he took his newborn daughter from O-Lan, knowing that he would have to let her die so the rest of them could survive, but I could feel his anguish.
I loved this book. It didn't matter that it was published almost 80 years ago. It still came across as fresh material and still relevant. There are still many areas of this world where people farm and try to eke out a living.
Blackstone Audio produced this audio book in 2007. It was read by Anthony Heald. Mr. Heald has a very enjoyable reading voice and it added to my enjoyment.
I read this book years ago and it has stayed with me ever since.
Originally published in 1931, it won the Pulitzer prize the following year.
The setting is in China, right before the revolution. Wang Lung is a poor farmer in a village and the book starts with his wedding to plain O-lan. They have four children together, three boys and one girl. He is a very hard working farmer and bit by bit, thanks also to O-lan's skills, he builds a fortune by buying land from the House of Hwangs's family, landowners in a nearest village whose wealth declines dramatically due to their relentless spending.
We are dipped into Chinese culture, taken from the seemingly bottomless poverty of the early days throughout the rise to wealth, only to be propelled downwards again due to a terrible draught and subsequent famine, when everything seems lost and the family has to move to the city, starting all over again.
We are reading spectators of the rise and fall and twists & turns of Wang Lung's family. Many touching episodes have moved me throughout the book, especially the ones connected with hard-working, silent, subservient O-lan and later on, the ones related to their mentally retarded baby girl.
The story is absorbing and mesmerizing, exquisitely written. Page after page, truly unforgettable. A must-read classic.
on March 11, 2004
Pearl S. Buck's novel of China at the turn of the 20th century, seen through the eyes of one peasant family, is a masterpiece of contemporary literature. It's the rags-to-riches story of Wang Lung, a subsistence farmer whose aged father purchases a wife for him to bring him children to carry on the family line. The old man finds him a wife who spent her childhood as a servant in a rich house. O-lan was too homely to be raped by the rich master or his sons, but her virginity is prized by the old man and Wang Lung. She is the perfect wife for the younger man, hardworking, self-denying, bearing him children with clockwork regularity. For a few years, the family prospers. But a peasant farmer is always at the mercy of the elements, and a disastrous drought sends them south to beg in the streets for their survival. A chance find of a rich man's hidden treasure by O-lan means not only their salvation, but the end of poverty. Wang Lung brings his family home to prosperity and buys more land to consolidate his wealth; eventually, he owns the house and land of the same wealthy man who sold him O-lan.
But as Wang Lung's fortunes prosper, he undergoes an insidious transformation. A rich man like him has no need for an ugly peasant wife like O-lan. He buys himself a concubine and sets her up in his house. Ashamed of his own illiteracy, he sends his sons to school. They grow up rich and spoiled, and take rich, spoiled wives. The sons don't want to work on the land; they look down their noses at the peasant class they came from. The family moves into the big house the rich man used to live in, and to the discomfiture and resentment of the villagers, Wang Lung becomes every day more like the rich man he so resented when he was poor himself, despising the unwashed masses. It is only as he grows old that Wang Lung's ties to the land assert themselves above everything else; his sole wish is to die in his father's home on the farm he grew up in. It's the curse of his life that his sons are indifferent to the land he loves.
Pearl Buck was raised in China and her love of the land and its people is evident throughout the book. Through her story of Wang Lung and his family we see the beginnings of the transformation of China from an agricultural to an industrial society and the profound changes this will bring on the country and its society. She continued the story through two sequels, but neither has the simple power and brilliance of the first. "The Good Earth" is her finest book.
on February 9, 2004
I'll be the first to admit, the premise of this book is not the most appealing. The life of a struggling peasant farmer in rural China during the turn of the century did not strike me as being a page turner. But Pearl S. Buck made me a fan after the first twenty pages and I could not put it down. At the urgings of my friends who knew that I was a fan of historical fiction I picked this one up. The story is thoughtful, told with compassion, and surprisingly fast paced. The characters are fascinating and are the main element that kept me reading. The unconventional protagonist is Wang Lung. A very self aware and sincere farmer whose story is told in third person but soley from his point of view. He marries a slave girl, O-lan, from the nearby village. They come to love each other not with passion, but with unspoken admiration and respect. Whats more is that they both earn the respect of the reader. O-lan clearly lives a hard life and has been given a bad hand, even sometimes at Wang Lungs doing, but it is hard to see her as a victim becuase does not see herself as one.
Before finishing this book I became so sure that I liked the authors work that I bought Pavillion of Women. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this was a Pulitzer prize winner over seventy years ago. Obtusely dismissing those books as stuffy and pretentious, I now look forward to reading those as well. Especially if they are written with such earnestness as this fine fable.
This 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is still a standout today. Deceptive in its simplicity, it is a story built around a flawed human being and a teetering socio-economic system, as well as one that is layered with profound themes. The cadence of the author's writing is also of note, as it rhythmically lends itself to the telling of the story, giving it a very distinct voice. No doubt the author's writing style was influenced by her own immersion in Chinese culture, as she grew up and lived in China, the daughter of missionaries.
This is the story of the cyclical nature of life, of the passions and desires that motivate a human being, of good and evil, and of the desire to survive and thrive against great odds. It begins with the story of an illiterate, poor, peasant farmer, Wang Lung, who ventures from the rural countryside and goes to town to the great house of Hwang to obtain a bride from those among the rank of slave. There, he is given the slave O-lan as his bride.
Selfless, hardworking, and a bearer of sons, the plain-faced O-lan supports Wang Lung's veneration of the land and his desire to acquire more land. She stays with him through thick and thin, through famine and very lean times, working alongside him on the land, making great sacrifices, and raising his children. As a family, they weather the tumultuousness of pre-revolutionary China in the 1920s, only to find themselves the recipient of riches beyond their dreams. At the first opportunity, they buy land from the great house of Hwang, whose expenses appear to be exceeding their income.
With the passing of time, Wang Lung buys more and more land from the house of Hwang, until he owns it all, as his veneration of the land is always paramount. With O-lan at this side, his family continues to prosper. His life becomes more complicated, however, the richer he gets. Wang Lung then commits a life-changing act that pierces O-lan's heart in the most profoundly heartbreaking way.
As the years pass, his sons become educated and literate, and the family continues to prosper. With the great house of Hwang on the skids, an opportunity to buy their house, the very same house from where he had fetched O-lan many years ago, becomes available. Pressed upon to buy that house by his sons, who do not share Wang Lung's veneration for the land and rural life, he buys the house. The country mice now have become city mice.
This is a potent, thematically complex story, brimming with irony, yet simply told against a framework of mounting social change. It is a story that stands as a parable in many ways and is one that certainly should be read. It illustrates the timeless dichotomy between the young and the old, the old and the new, and the rich and the poor. It is no wonder that this beautifully written book won a Pulitzer Prize and is considered a classic masterpiece. Bravo!
on December 21, 2003
While reading this book, I was totally struck by the honest and compassionate way Pearl Buck told her story. Born and raised in China, I can see my great grandparents in Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan, although in the end they didn't make it to the riches but stayed in the middle class among farmers and had put all their kids through schools which was the first ever in their village.
What I love most about this book is that it shows the Westerners what life was REALLY like in rural China at the turn of the century instead of the usual stereotype or common cliche. In that sense, Pearl Buck was more Chinese than Chinese, for Amy Tan, Dai SiJie and the alike are just commercial writers in my opinion, who more or less only wrote what they thought would sell.
The book itself is certainly well written too. It's as if walking through a living museum of the past and one could vividly envision what Wang Lung and O-Lan had gone through as the story unfolds. Pearl Buck used simple yet powerful narrative language in which I felt Wang Lung's pain, suffering, ambition, agony, pride and all sorts of emotions and couldn't help but empathized with him as a human being.
There are also small things that delighted me in Perl Buck's writing. To name just one, she had faithfully translated the characters' dialogs into English and I have to say you can't get more authentic than that. For example, she used moon for month, old head for old man, etc., and those are exactly how we say in Chinese, literally.
It's a pity that neither in the US nor in China Pearl Buck is recognized or respected as much as she should have been. Though I went to Nanjing University where Pearl Buck had taught for years in China, little have I heard of her until just now, after finishing the Good Earth. Then I found that she also did a lot of humanitarian work in addition to writing after her return to the US, including pushing for the legalization of interracial/international adoptions that now has benefited so many families.
I would recommend Camel XiangZi by Lao, She ( Original in Chinese and translation in English available) which is the tale of a urban pedicab driver in the same era if you enjoy the Good Earth. I think the two authors have similar styles in story-telling.
on December 20, 2003
This book by Pearl S. Buck is quite possibly the best picture of pre-Revolution China that you can read. It centers around a man named Wang Lung...
When the novel starts, Wang is getting ready to go and retrieve his new wife, a former slave in a grand house. He and his father live in a three room house on their land, and they are very poor. Wang's new wife, O-lan, is really hard working, if kind-of simple, and she bears him three children: three boys and two girls.
The family moves to the city during a time of famine, and they experience a revolt in a very, very rich man's house. They come away not only with a lot of gold coins, but also a huge amount of jeweled necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. When they go back to their house in the country, they buy even more land, and soon become very, very rich themselves... what's really amazing is that during all this time, Wang's still a pretty nice guy because he can still work his land and be outside. But then a time of great flooding occurs...
Wang gets infatuated by a concubine named Lotus, and he takes her into his house. Poor O-lan is totally neglected, and eventually dies. Wang is completely changed by Lotus, and he feels repulsion for O-lan until she finally dies.
They move into a large house and then Wang falls in love with a, like, sixteen year old girl servant (he at the time is SEVENTY) after Lotus starts to age. At the end of the book, he overhears his sons talking about selling the land that he worked so hard to get, and he gets really upset...
My thoughts about the characters, starting from the biggest to the smallest:
WANG LUNG: changed from good to worse as the book progressed; a few times toward the end you really wanted to go in there and slap him.
O-LAN: she did everything possible for her husand and her family, and in the end she didn't get anything at all in the end. It's really sad...
LOTUS: For starters, she's a concubine, and then there's the thing that she's incredibly mean and unloyal to everyone else...
THE SONS: the oldest needs to get his mind off girls, the second one's okay, but obsessed with money, and the youngest one is just really independent and ends up going to war. None of them are really honorable.
THE DAUGHTERS: the 'little fool' can't help herself, and thank heavens the youngest one got married off.
PEACH BLOSSOM: why would she do what she did? That really grossed me out.
My final opinion: This is good to read, probably some of the best historical fiction that I've ever read, and everything that happens is just so grotesque and scary, especially if you're a girl, that it keeps you reading without stopping. I recommend this to everyone.
on November 6, 2003
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck describes the lifestyle and culture of the Chinese people. The entire novel is based upon the simple fact that the earth is good. The earth takes care of mankind by providing food and shelter, it offers the possibility of wealth if cared for and managed properly, it cannot be taken away or stolen and all men must eventually return to the land. "Out of the land we came and into it we must go, and if you hold your land you can live, no one can rob you of land." The novel also touches on the differences in the thinking of the older generation, Wang Lung, and the newer generation, his children. Wang's entire life was dependent on the good earth. Eventually, his children and possibly even Wang Lung himself, desert the land Wang loved and respected.
The author wants the reader to realize that the earth is to be respected and revered. I believe that another important point she made was that corruption, grief and unrest were all brought about by the wealth Wang Lung and his family received. It was almost like a domino effect. Wang Lung started to gain riches, his family-life began to deteriorate, soon after, he broke off ties to his land. Eventually, he became like the people he had once despised. "At least I have the land, I have the land." The earth was the one thing Wang thought he could never lose. Near the end of the book, it is obvious his priorities changed. Instead of worrying about when the rain will come to make his harvest grow, Wang is concerned about taking the positions of the Lord and Mistress who had once treated him so poorly. It was true that "all their lives depended upon the earth." As the sons of Wang Lung and even Wang Lung himself became less dependent on the earth, they began to depend more on their wealth and social position. I believe, toward the end, Wang lung realizes this when he says, "If you sell the land, it is the end."