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Book Review: The Good Earth By Pearl S Buck
The Good Earth - Pulitzer Prize Winner
The Good Earth was first published in 1931 and it is no surprise that it won a Pulitzer prize by 1932. This book has the ability to draw the reader in with vivid detail to the Chinese culture and their treatment of women. The ensuing emotions become almost unbearable at times. Although there are many high points as well that keep you turning the pages in hopes of the ultimate happily ever after.
As the story begins you find yourself routing for the main character, Wang Lung. He is a poor Chinese farmer who picks for himself a plain kitchen slave, from the wealthy House Of Hwang, for his wife. His goal in life is to work his land and yield good crops to earn his living. Nothing is more important to him and you want him to be successful. His wife proves to be a suitable helper and the feeling is that the two of them can and will accomplish anything together. O-lan, his wife, even bears him sons which is said to be a good oman
The writer, Pearl S. Buck, does a wonderful job of getting the reader emotionally involved with the story. When other family members cause problems for Wang Lung and Olan, the reader can actually feel their pain. And then, when famine hits the land, one can feel their hunger and desperation right along with them.
As you travel with the family at a time when they need to flee to the southern region of China in hopes of work and food, you find yourself worrying as well as hoping about the upcoming unknown. The tension rises as the family and the reader are brought into a strange territory.
In a turn of events, thanks in a large part to O-lan, they come across some wealth and head back home to invest in more land. Just when you think all will be well, changes start to take place in Wang Lung. With the new found wealth also comes some idleness. He starts to really look at his plain O-lan and decides he needs more.
Wang Lung takes on a concubine and at the same time sends his sons to school instead of having them work the land. This is a definite turning point in the story. A certain sadness fills the reader as you can see the family dynamic changing. You are never quite certain how each son will handle the schooling and privilege. Each does react differently.
The ending comes full circle for Wang Lung and it is apparent that he has some regrets, especially at Olan's deathbed. His sons have different ideas for the land which Wang Lung has worked so hard for. It is an almost expected ending and you can just guess the outcome of the sons future based on the demise of the great House of Hwang.
About The Author
Although Pearl Buck was an American, she lived a large part of her life in China. Her parents were missionaries in China so Pearl grew up among the Chinese peasants in a small farming community. This is what gave her such valuable insight for her writing. She had first hand knowledge from living with the people. I'm sure she herself relived much of the emotion in her writing. It's no wonder the reader can feel so much a part of the culture.
Pearl lived in China the first eighteen years of her life and then returned to the states to earn her degree from the Randolph-Macon Womens College in Lynchburg, Virginia. After graduation she again returned to China to care for her sick mother and later married a missionary herself. They eventually returned to the states to live and Pearl began writing in 1923.
Not only did Pearl win a Pulitzer Prize for The Good Earth in 1932 but she also was the first American woman to earn the Nobel prize for literature in 1938.
Book Club Pick
This book makes a great book club pick. It was one that was chosen in the book club I belong to and it provided some very lively discussion. Part of the reason is that this is an excellent rags to riches story showing the effect money can have on a family. Another great topic is the treatment of women in China. There will never be a loss for conversation on this book!
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