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Book Review: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Published in USA in 1931

Pearl S. Buck was born to missionary parents who were stationed in China, where she returned to after graduating. There, she met her husband and settled in Anhui Province and her writing career began. She went on to publish more than seventy books, and won the nobel prize in literature in 1938.

The Good Earth won the Pulitzer prize and is part of a trilogy. It is about the brutality of life in poverty, for people who worked the fields in China's countryside. The story explores the conditions of a young family who's father; Wang Lung, glories in the land as it provides for he and his family, while nearby in the town the occupants of the House of Hwang are in a class of their own and snub most of the field workers. One day the family are forced to find work in the city and through showing mercy to a noble man, Wang Lung receives a small fortune and returns home with his new wealth. He buys land and begins to rise.

The story is also about the relationships of people within a household, namely Wang Lung's sons and his women. The family rise and usurp the envied house of Hwang and live in relative comfort. But the relationships are fraught as Wang Lung's wealth spurs him towards engaging in prostitution and thus neglecting the wife of his youth; O-Lan, who prior to marriage was a slave in the House of Hwang.

I wanted to read the story to find out more about China at the time of the last emperor. I thoroughly enjoyed the simple, straight forward prose and felt it was very poignant. I especially felt for O-Lan, his wife whom the reader senses forever lived in the shadow of her husband, having been redeemed from slavery. She is portrayed as unattractive but quietly submissive in her suffering and gets on with things, including giving birth alone in a field, unaided partly out of choice, and then straps the new born on her back and carries on working. The book finishes on the cusp of political uprisings and a sense of the generational changes in attitudes towards the land. I highly recommend The Good Earth to anyone wanting to gauge an insight into pre-revolutionary China . Copies may be purchased through the link below.

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