Saturday, September 5, 2009

Book Review: The Good Earth

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.


Marbel said...

I have bad memories of this book, probably from having to over-analyze it in school. Now that my kids are growing up I should probably add that to our future reading list. I have a feeling I'll like it better the second time around.

Laughing Stars said...

I've wanted to read this since I was in 8th grade, and now -- at age 43 -- I still haven't gotten around to it. :-) Thanks for the lovely review.

Donna said...

I love your comment. Yes I agree the book is timeless in its message and its emotions. Perhaps you would enjoy the website of the home Pearl Buck lived in the last 40 years of her life?
Donna Carcaci Rhodes
The Pearl S.Buck National Historic Landmark Home

Literary Feline said...

I have been wanting to read this one for awhile now. It was not on any of my class syllabi when I was in school and it wasn't until a few years ago that I first heard about it. It definitely sounds like a worthwhile read. Thanks for your great review!

S. Mehrens said...

Read this one back in high school. It impacted me enough that I remember quite a bit of the story. It is a well written book even if the subject matter can be sad. Thanks for the review!

crochet lady said...

It has been many years since I've read that book, but remember the rich way in which she brought me into the Asian culture. I think I may reread that one soon.

Rebecca Reid said...

Amen to all you say! I didn't love this book -- my first experience was this year, via audiobook -- but I think if I reread it I will love it. I think it was the audio experience that made it feel like it dragged and I just hated all the characters except O-lan. I think a reread will help me to see all the complexities of the plot. It really is beautifully written and created!