Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Good Earth--a book review

I've been meaning to read The Good Earth since I first heard about it in grade school. The author, Pearl S. Buck, was born in West Virginia and was part of my WV history lessons back then. This month I finally joined the other millions (billions?), who have read the book when I read it as part of my book club.

The Good Earth was published in 1931 and follows the life of Wang Lung in pre-revolutionary rural China. The book begins with a young Wang Lung preparing for his wedding day and follows his life until he is old and close to death. He values the land and farming above all else which leads him from humble beginnings to being a rich man. Along the way, we see him suffer through famines and personal hardships and watch the way his eventual wealth affects him and the next generation.

This book has been a classic since it came out. It won a Pulitzer Prize and also helped Buck win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (And if that weren't enough, it was chosen for Oprah's Book Club a couple of years ago). What all of this means is the book has been studied and talked about for decades now. Its historical significance and literary merits have been debated by many scholars as well as high school students. So there's a lot of information out there you can read for an in depth analysis of it. However, in the meantime I'm going to tell you what I thought about it when I read it as an afternoon pleasure read.

Buck's writing style is what impressed me the most about this novel. She writes in a simplistic way about profound events. It reminded me of Bible stories where powerful stories are told with just the simple facts. When I was describing this to Theo he said, “You mean she tells you the story, but doesn't tell you how to feel about it.” And I think that is a good description. But among this simple story telling are very rich details about Chinese culture which also play a major role in the plot. All in all, it is a very compelling read.

I thought the book could have ended sooner than it did. It seemed to me that the story plodded along a little longer than it needed to. However, another member of the club thought that Buck was slowing down the story just as Wang Lung's life did as he aged. In retrospect, this made a lot of sense to me. Maybe it ended at just the right time.

What did the other members of the club think? Everyone liked the book, including me, and it provided a good discussion. This is not always the case when everyone likes a book.

Recommendation: If you are one of the few like I was who have not read The Good Earth, give it a try. Unlike some classics, it is an easy, enjoyable read, but like many classics, it will give you much to reflect on.
But Wait, There's More:

--The Good Earth is the first book in a trilogy about this family. It is followed by Sons and a House Divided.

--I don't like to give away much of the story when I do a review, so I don't do that here. However, if you'd like to know more about The Good Earth, read here.