The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck (Review)

Amazon Summary: Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. "I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions,its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel-- beloved by millions of readers -- is a universal tale of the destiny of man.

Rating: 4/5

Review: After doing some research once I had finished this book, I discovered "The Good Earth" is a title most would place into the "classics" category. I was a little surprised I had not known that previously - I had honestly heard nothing of it and only read it because it was given to me as a gift. And I am genuinely glad that I did, it absolutely struck a chord with me. That being said, I was not aware that Pearl S. Buck was a white lady. Given the fact that she did grow up and spend a large majority of her life in China, I am unsure of where this book falls on the appropriation scale. Nor do I feel qualified to comment on that, and I'd love to hear other's opinions on that. So please feel free to point out any problematic aspects that are to be found in either my review, or the novel being discussed.

Overall, the best approach I can say to take with this book is to view it as a parable rather than a social commentary or realistic depiction of Pre-revolutionary China. Again, I am definitely not qualified to speak on how historically accurate this story is so I can't say one way or another. The story follows the life of poor farmer, Wang Lung from the time he takes a wife to his death as a very rich man. The events and defining moments of Wang Lung's life are quite poetic, but a bit too perfect and life-lesson based to be read as anything other than an analogy. Within the context of a parable though, the story is quite beautiful and feels wholly human. It was simple but not at all boring. A large theme relating to the generational gaps between parents and children was present and was wholly relevant despite the difference in both time and location from when the story took place to my life now. I also enjoyed the questions that were posed around the morality of money and personal responsibility. All of which again, seemed appropriate within the plot and also very much a terrific reflection of the current state of events.

I've read that a lot of people strongly disliked Wang Lung, which I think is perfectly understandable given some of the utterly shitty choices he makes. I would fully expect to feel the same way - and I actually feel awful because of how empathetic I felt towards him. Something about the bluntness and matter-of-fact way in which Buck lays out his moral failings made it weirdly easy to forgive him. I don't excuse anything he did, but I would definitely have to attribute my feelings to the brilliant writing.

Final Thoughts: Two thumbs up - very enjoyable!

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