It's been a long, long time since I read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Pearl S. Buck. I believe we read this in about 8th grade, possibly 9th, and I have vivid memories of the feelings the novel evoked: of a handful of earth, of poverty, and sadness. I read several Pearl S. Buck novels after this one, and I'd like to go back and read them again as an adult.
This is the story of one farmer, Wang Lung, and his family. As a young and very poor farmer, Wang Lung marries the slave O-lan from the rich house, and the two of them work the land until they are prosperous, hiding money in the walls of their hut and buying more land as they can. O-lan bears him several children, including many sons, and as long as she is working beside him, he prospers in all ways.
As Wang Lung becomes more prosperous, his personal life falls apart. He begins treating O-lan with contempt and takes a second wife, who is like a spoiled pet to him. His children grow up to be spoiled, unpleasant adults, and his second wife requires too much attention and material goods. And outside of his own small life, China itself is going through a time of political upheaval that touches Wang Lung in only the most distant ways.
I love Buck's voice; it is simple yet poetic. Her characters absolutely brim with life. Even weeks after reading this book, I can easily conjure up pictures of Wang Lung, O-lan, and the rest of the cast of characters. Rarely do I find images as nearly tangible as those painted by Buck in this novel.
This is one classic re-read that was well worth the the time—and that stands the test of time.