Monday, 22 November 2010
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
DATE READ: November 2010
NOTES: Pearl Buck lived in China for many years and spoke the language so I am happy to accept the authenticity of her writing. The Good Earth tells the story of Wang Lung - a hard-working peasant farmer with ambitions to improve his life. O-lan is a plain servant girl (effectively a slave) in the house of the local landowner. Wang Lung takes her as a wife having said that he does not want a beautiful woman but one that is strong and willing to work and bear him sons. Love is not an expectation.
Although Wang Lung and his wife work hard other things conspire against him and his life is a continual struggle against poverty and destitution. Buck writes in a very simple and lucid way – which somehow makes the issues that she raises even more shocking. The story is interwoven with infanticide, murder, drug-taking, prostitution, greed and betrayal. But throughout it all Wang Lung is convinced that it is the land which will offer them salvation. For much of the narrative Wang Lung and many of the other characters are far from flawless – but the author doesn’t judge them. Instead she relates their actions and attitudes and leaves the rest to the reader.
It is not made absolutely clear when the book was supposed to be set. Slavery was abolished in 1910 so it is probably supposed to be set about that time. By 1912 the Republic of China had been created although there were many internal factions leading to the era of the warlords. The Good Earth was first published in 1931 – so the story was written without knowing the massive upheavals that were to occur in China a few years in the future. But already the country was in a state of flux with the mention of distant wars and gangs of local robbers.
A brilliant book – a true classic.