My BFF, Clemence Noakes, has written a guest review for the classic novel The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. Thank you so much, Clemence!
Pearl Buck won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for “The Good Earth,” and the book was influential for Pearl Buck winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938. “The Good Earth” is the first book in a trilogy. Pearl Buck was the daughter of missionaries to China and wrote “The Good Earth” while living in China. Buck drew on her first-hand observation of Chinese village life to write “The Good Earth.”
Before writing a summary of “The Good Earth,” I’d like to discuss the impact the book had on the US. “The Good Earth” was written in a sympathetic style, and the book introduced Americans to the Chinese culture prior to the take-over of Mao Zedong in 1949. “The Good Earth” influenced Americans to accept China as an ally in the US war with Japan in WWII.
“The Good Earth” starts with the protagonist, Wang Lung, a poor farmer, going to the house of a rich landowner to buy a slave to be his wife. Poor people often sold their young daughters to the rich for slaves to work in the house and gardens to have money for food. Wang Lung’s wife-to-be, O-Lan, was not physically attractive but had a solid work ethic. Within a year, O-Lan had given Wang Lung his first son. O-Lan was so proud that she asked to take her son to the house where she had been a slave to show that she was now the Lady of her house and had a son. Wang Lung and O-Lan worked side-by-side on the farm and were very frugal with the money they earned. Eventually, Wang Lung bought the farmland of the rich family O-Lan had been a slave for as the rich family had an expensive opium habit.
Famine occurred with predictable weather patterns, and Wang Lung and family, now with two sons, had to move south to work in the city. O-Lan was pregnant with their first daughter during the famine and did not get the nutrition she needed for the child to be healthy. Their first daughter also had very little food during her first year of life. As a result, their daughter was mentally disabled. “The Good Earth” described how the poor ate grass, the leaves off of trees, and even tree bark to survive during famine.
When the famine was over, Wang Lung and his family went back to his property and started farming again. Wang Lung grew so rich that he was able to send his sons to school to learn to read and write. O-Lan had twins at this time – a boy and a girl. Polygamy was practiced at this time, and Wang Lung bought another wife named Lotus from one of the Tea Shops. He said he had never loved O-Lan because she was not physically attractive, and Lotus was the trophy wife that a rich man should have. O-Lan cried and said that she had given Wang Lung three sons.
A poor family came to Wang Lung to sell their daughter for money to purchase food. Wang Lung purchased the young daughter out of compassion and allowed her to serve his second wife. Eventually, when Lang Lung became 70, he took this young girl, Pear Blossom, as his third wife. O-Lan died, and this was the first time that Wang Lung realized what a good wife O-Lan had been. The custom of China at the time was to purchase the coffin for the dying and put the coffin in the room with the dying to comfort them. This was to show the dying that there was a place for their bones. Wang Lung’s father died about the same time, and both were buried on a hill on Wang Lung’s property.
The remainder of the book describes the conflicts among Wang Lung’s children and their spouses. Wang Lung was proud to have many grandchildren and enjoyed playing with them. Wang Lung also had an uncle whom Wang Lung considered to be a free-loader but found out that he was the chief bandit in the district, which explained why Wang Lung had never been raided by the bandits. The Revolution was also starting to take hold in various parts of the country, and Wang Lung’s youngest son went to join the army.
I enjoyed learning what life was like in China was like prior to the Communist take-over. I recommend this book and give it 5 stars.