40. ‘The Good Earth’ by Pearl S. Buck

The Book:

[CONTAINS SPOILERS]

This story begins on Wang Lung’s wedding day. Lung is a Chinese farmer, living in a tiny wooden hut with his aging father, and tending to the land that has passed through his family for generations. His wedding day marks a change in his fortunes: no longer will he have to get up early to heat his father’s water. Now there will be a woman to do it for him.

Once you finish this book and look back to the beginning, it’s easy to be astonished remembering Lung’s humble roots. He goes so far and changes so much throughout the course of the story that he becomes, in many ways, unrecognisable. As he grows older, has children and accumulates riches his desires change incredibly. And his children, largely raised in a world without crippling poverty, grow up with different ideals.

Pearl S. Buck has no qualms about skipping over quiet years in Lung’s life in a only a few paragraphs, in order to stop and linger on more important times. Once we’ve seen the birth of one child (incredible, by the way: his wife continues to work the fields until the day before giving birth), the rest are skipped over quite quickly. This can be a little disorientating, but I thought Buck wrote it well, and I liked the overall fast pace of the novel.

The contrast between two major buildings in the book is very interesting. Lung’s farm hut expands as he can afford to add extensions and, eventually, frivolities like fish ponds. On the other hand, the grand house in the town – where his wife worked as a servant before she married Lung – crumbles, peasants move into the outer courtyards, and the rich family loses its wealth and disperses. As Lung prospers, the wealthy family fails. This can also be read as a warning to Lung about his family’s future: they might be on top now, but it may not always be so.

This is the first book in a trilogy, I believe, and it ends with Lung realising that the most important thing of all is the land that he came from. He makes his children promise that they will never sell the family’s land – that they’ll never leave the good earth – but they smile at each other behind his back. I would like to read the other books: this epic family saga certainly has me hooked. I like the sense of circularity, the feeling that, given enough time, everything will return to the way it was. And the idea that the earth will always provide.

The Background:

I requested this book from Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley and it’s been on my ‘to read’ and then my ‘to review’ list for AGES. They’ve been very patient with me: thank you!

Also, if you want to know more about the writer, take a look at this mini-documentary about Pearl S. Buck, narrated by her son, Edgar Walsh.


If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?

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