Author: Pearl S. Buck
Published: 2004 Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster)
My Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
A Pulitzer Prize Winner from 1932, The Good Earth is written in beautiful straightforward language. Clearly depicting life in Pre-revolutionary China, it is a picture of a Wang Lung's quest for success in life: the heartbreak in famine and in plenty. Even as his riches grow, Wang Lung finds no peace, except for in the fertile soil that has been his constancy in life.
While soaking in the vivid details of a foreign patriarchal society, I found the characters far easier to identify with than I would have imagined: the author brings foreign and familiar together in this book. The characters were not easy to identify with because of shared circumstances, but rather because of how human their struggles were. What a hard time and place to be a woman! My heart hurt for O-lan, who was amazingly loyal, resourceful, and strong, and yet was never noticed or appreciated. The inability of Wang Lung to make the difficult choices frustrated and saddened me, but at the same time rang of truth.
The strong themes of the corruption of wealth were not accusatory, but rather shown as a matter of course. As your wealth and consequence increases, how much more difficult is it to raise children who have a good work ethic and humble world-view? It may be possible to succeed monetarily, and to pass on those material riches to your children, but to also pass on the wisdom, strength, and fortitude that it took to succeed is another thing entirely. The Good Earth isn't what I would call a joyful book...but it is touching, engaging, and thought-provoking.
But O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away; only she beat the more steadily with her wooden stick upon the clothes spread over the stone.