The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Buck's classic novel is an epic portrayal of agrarian China near the turn of the twentieth century, leading up to the 1912 Revolution. The novel opens on the wedding day of Wang Lung, a poor farmer. His wife, O-lan, has spent her youth as a slave for a wealthy family in town. Up to this time, Wang Lung has had to care for his father in addition to farming the land, and he is simply glad to have someone to cook, clean, and tend to his father while he works the land. His relationship with O-lan develops, in a traditional way, as she bears him children and works with him in the fields. During a time of widespread crop failure, they migrate to a southern city and learn to survive in far different conditions. But the pull of the land is strong, and eventually Wang Lung and his family return to their home town and prosper as farmers and landowners.
Over the years the family experiences birth, death, marriage, and war; happiness as well as suffering. Buck brings the characters of Wang Lung, O-lan, and their children to life. Wang Lung could be rather distasteful by modern, western standards, even when he was simply trying to provide the best for his family. At other times, he was motivated by selfish desires and made decisions which would be harmful viewed through any cultural lens. And I felt sorry for O-lan, who was helpless under his partriarchal rule.
Towards the end of The Good Earth, Wang Lung prepares to pass his land to his sons, just as China is preparing to pass over into a new era of its own. My edition of this book included a reader's supplement with cultural notes and photos of weddings, markets, and ordinary people which helped bring the story and the time period to life. This book is more than just an epic family saga, it also paints a fascinating picture of the life and customs of a country on the brink of dramatic change.
My original review can be found here.