# Paperback: 368 pages
# Publisher: Washington Square Press; (September 15, 2004). First published: 1931
Music to listen to as you read: (clicking on the links takes you to the mp3 recording)
Autumn Moon Over a Quiet Lake
(composed in the 1920's by Lu Wencheng)
Slow Liu Ban
(composed by Jiang Nan)
An Dun part 2
With gratitude to Angela in Europe for reading this book with me and for the wonderful discussion that ensued via e-mail. Thanks, Angela, you made the rereading of this book so enjoyable with your fresh perspective and insights.
What can one say, I wonder, about Pearl Buck's immensely popular and well read novel that hasn't already been said? I read "The Good Earth" when I was in Grade 10 and remember it being such a powerful story that when booklogged announced her Classics Challenge, I felt bound to do a re-read. I am not finding it all that powerful this time around which certainly lends credence to the theory that a book speaks differently to you depending upon what
stage of your life you read it in, but it is no less enjoyable and still very,very moving in parts.
The story in a nutshell, centers around Wang Lung, a peasant living in abject poverty in the Chinese north in the early part of the 20th-century. When he reaches a marriageable age, O-Lan, a slave girl from the rich Hwang House is given to him as a bride.Together they toil his land and build a family and with her resourcefulness and his hard labor Wang Lung slowly becomes a prosperous landowner, even buying out the lands once owned by the great Hwang family.
Wang Lung's fortunes change more than once, and as he acquires more wealth you see his priorities start to change - he dresses like a rich man, sends his sons to school (he himself was illiterate); he buys a concubine (Lotus) and builds her her own quarters with her own slaves; he starts to find fault with his wife, O-Lan "...who plodded in silence . . . her features were too large . . . and her feet were large and spreading." (her feet had not been bound); he no longer toils the land himself but employs men to work on his fields. While his attitude to everything changes the one thing that appears to remain a constant in his life, is his love for the land, his appreciation of it and the awareness that he would have been nothing had it not been for "The Good Earth".
What I liked about the novel:
The narrative is simply written and very easy to read. The language employed is quaint and sweet. It's the kind of novel you could read anywhere, but, be warned, its impact can send you reeling. Pearl Buck writes about ancient China like none of her contemporaries, I'm sure there were Chinese writers also writing about China in that period, but sometimes local writers do not describe social customs and traditions in detail (they expect it is understood). Pearl Buck knew she was writing for an American audience and writes in glorious detail taking the reader into the heart of the place sharing the customs, tradtions, history and the thinking of the time (the 1920's)
What I learned:
I was most appalled by the gender inequality and how women were treated. In 20-century China, women were not daughters, they were borne simply to be a man's slave, they were even referred to as "slave" or "maid".
"...she was a like a faithful, speechless serving maid, who is only a serving maid and nothing more. And it was not meet that he should say to her, "why do you not speak"? It should be enough that she fulfilled her duty"
Along with this serfdom they had to put up with foot binding, a husband's many concubines and looking after his extended family's every whim, it certainly made feel so lucky to be born a woman in this era and this part of the world. I cannot help but question, however, if much has changed for the women of China. If you have read Xinran's book "The Good WOmen of China" you will know why I ask.
Also, I was most impressed with the filial piety practised by the Chinese. As much as Wang Lung hated his uncle (his father's brother) he was compelled to look after him and his family until they died, providing for all their needs, like food, lodging and even their recreational smokes.
I think Pearl Buck meant the land to serve as a metaphor for one's value system, one's traditions. As long as Wang Lung stayed close to the land and tended to it himself, he was a morally upright man, but the minute he strayed away from it or handed over the tending to outsiders, his morals started to waiver. I think Wang Lung always knew that deep down inside and that's why he clung to his land
update: Les from Lesley's Book Nook has a wonderful, wonderful review of the same book. Check it out!