Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Good Earth

Wang Lung works to give his family a better life. He has a love of the land that his sons never grasp. Did the better life he created also create a distance between the sons and their heritage? Was that the nature of family life in China?

Pearl S. Buck grew up in China. Her parents were missionaries, who only returned to America to have her. When she was three months old, they returned to China. Buck then only left China to go to university. She was forced to permanently leave in 1933 because of war. A short biography of her life can be read on Wikipedia. There is also more information about her and the foundation she started at the foundation’s website.

I did not expect to be so thoroughly engrossed in The Good Earth. It was fantastic! I connected with these characters more than I expected. Their world is so different from the one I inhabit. Their emotions feel so real; it is that deep emotional connection that pulls you into the story.

Buck's life was deeply connected to China, its people and culture. She writes about the farmer, Wang Lung with a true realism. She even says that she writes about China because that’s all she knows. The Good Earth really reflects that. The story reads as though it was someone close to Wang Lung who wrote it.

One of the first things that struck me on a personal level was the treatment of women in Chinese society in the early 20th century. When a girl child is born, it’s called a “slave”. The child is raised essentially to leave the family and be some man’s wife. Once they are married, there is likely no more contact with parents or siblings. Boys are what they hope and pray for. Boys carry the family forward and take care of aging parents. O-Lan is a slave Wang Lung’s father buys to be his son’s wife. She is not pretty, but she is strong. Though for a time he forgets, Wang Lung knows that he would not be where he is in life without the quiet O-Lan. Wang Lung is good to the women in his life, though within the confines of the society he is born into.

The Good Earth is set during pre-revolutionary China, though there is always some far off war happening. By the end of the novel, the edges of war has come through Wang Lung’s home. War is ever growing closer. It makes me wonder what will happen to the life that Wang Lung has created for his family. His sons also smile behind his back. It makes me wonder what they will do to the legacy as well.

Something I learned, as I read a bit about Pearl S. Buck was that The Good Earth is part of a trilogy. Though I had often heard of this book, I’d never heard of its sequels. Sons is the second book and A House Divided is the third. As much as I want to know what happens to Wang Lung’s family, I’m hesitant to read these two books. It’s difficult to even find them.

One thing I do know, The Good Earth is worth reading. It might be one of those rare books I read twice. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope everyone who reads it loves it as much as I do.


  1. I loved The Good Earth! I spent several years looking around for Sons and just found it at Strand Books in NYC this spring. Now I think I need to reread The Good Earth before starting it.

  2. O-lan is not a likeable character, but she is intriguing. I always got the impression that she was a hardy survivor whose inner life was deeper than her husband imagined (or bothered to learn about).