The Good Earth (House of Earth #1), by Pearl S. Buck

Seven stars

Tasked with reading this award-winning novel by Pearl S. Buck, I was a little apprehensive, but ready to read with an open mind. Buck takes the reader into imprecise time in China’s past and presents a story of a farmer who saw more than was before him. As the novel opens, a young Wang Lung is preparing for his marriage to a local slave girl. Wang Lung is not a rich man, but has a parcel of land he cultivates the best way he knows how. While he and his wife, O-lan, work the fields, they discover prosperity in the fruits of their labour. Earning a decent amount of silver, Wang Lung and O-lan work as hard as they can, beginning a family when possible. After a few sons, Wang Lung is gifted with a daughter, though this is nothing worth celebrating in his eyes. He struggles with what to do, but has little time to contemplate it, as poor weather makes it harder to farm. When a drought overtakes the land, Wang Lung looks out of his northern village to the south, in hopes of finding something to help him get back on his feet. He sees the glitz and glamour of the big city, even taking up running a rickshaw, but does not feel comfortable away from farming. When he returns to the field, he tries not to get discouraged and works even harder. He may be poor, but he is able to provide for his family. As his sons grow, they show propensities for things other than farming, which Wang Lung privately praises, but cannot condone outwardly. A clash occurs when one son seeks to define himself in unique ways, which can only end with a father forcefully putting his son back in line. There is much to learn for them both, but Wang Lung realises that this is one time when profits for a good harvest cannot solve the trouble. A well-written piece that obviously earned Pearl S. Buck some notoriety, though I am not sure it was that amazing. Open to those who want to travel back in time, though surely not worth staying up late into the night.

I often struggle when a book receives many prestigious accolades, as though this makes it a must read or standard when it comes to literature. I struggle understanding why classics get that label and this is the second novel in my reading group that has earned a Pulitzer without my being blown away by its content. Buck does well to paint a picture of Wang Lung and his humble beginnings. The story works well as he and his wife begin a life together, as well as some of the personal developments that form him into the protagonist. He does his best and tries to put his family above all others, struggling at times to prosper. As Buck seems to indicate throughout, it is the age-long story of a man trying to exert his authority and keep his pride, no matter what stands before him. The attentive reader will likely see how Wang Lung develops as he ages, struggling with new ideas and societal views, while still wanting to keep control of his small parcel. If the earth that Wang Lung cultivates could have a personality all its own, it would be a strong secondary character, interacting on a yearly basis with the farmer and presenting struggles throughout. The handful of secondary characters in the novel prove useful to tell the story injecting their own ideas while flavouring the narrative, though I was not entirely captivated by any of them. Buck can spin a tale, of that there is no doubt. She can craft a piece that needs little technology or specific time to keep the reader wanting to know more. The themes she presents are worth understanding, but the book was not sensational. Rather, like its title, it was good earth, decent soil from which a plot can sprout and fertilise the mind of the reader. That’s about it! While this is the first of a trilogy that explores the cultural and societal changes in China, I’ll let others continue the journey.

Kudos, Madam Buck, for a decent piece. Your foreshadowing and foreboding work well, but I don’t think the praise is necessarily worthy.

This book fulfils the August 2020 requirements of Mind the Bookshelf Gap’s challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: