Monday, February 12, 2007

'The Good Earth'

by Pearl S. Buck

WINNER of the Pulitzer Prize 1932; WINNER of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1938

(Book #6 for 2007; 3rd book finished for the Classics Challenge; Book #1 for the TBR Challenge)

In the reign of the last emperor a servant woman married a humble man. Together they began an epic journey…

"I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," (Pearl Buck)
Coming as she did from a missionary background, what I most appreciated in Buck’s epic story was that I never felt any judgement on her part of the Chinese customs, traditions, or superstitions, towards religion, marriage (and concubines), and death. She did a wonderful job of explaining them and portraying the people and their lives very realistically, so it seemed. Simply told, (I didn’t make a note of any quotes while reading), this only made it extremely readable, and allowed the story of Wang Lung to shine through. Married to a slave-woman, O-lan, they suffer together through intense hardships, but Wang’s eternal reverence and love of the land, allows them to finally achieve a better life. Or at least it was a better life for Wang and his sons. To read about O-lan’s life is heartbreaking, and like others have said in their reviews*, I can not imagine being a woman in that time and place, and can only be thankful to have the life I do! With Wang Lung in centre stage, the other family members didn’t come across quite as vividly, but I would still be very interested to read the next book in the trilogy, Sons. I like the idea (from Lotus) that the land, the good earth, represents the value system to keep their morals in check. Unlike Wang, who strayed but always returned, it would be interesting to see how the sons fare as they distance themselves ever more from the life-giving land.

My Rating: 4/5

*Please also see the excellent reviews (and for music to read along to) on Lotus Reads and Lesley's Book Nook. Also reviewed at Age 30 - A Year of Books.

Note: My copy (Pocket Books by Simon & Schuster UK) contained several typos, which I always find annoying and rather interrupted my reading.

Misc: While browsing online, I found a picture of this U.S. Commemorative stamp from 1983.


  1. I have that book sitting on my TBR shelf - glad to hear it's a classic in every sense!

  2. Nice review, Nat. You gave it the same rating as I did. And I agree that the secondary characters weren't fleshed out very well. I think I'd like to read Sons someday, too.

  3. Nat, I'm so glad you liked "The Good Earth"! I liked it enough to want to read it again, and if I do, it would be my third time! :)

    Yes, you made a good point about Pearl Buck being totally non-judgmental of the Chinese customs of those days, despite the fact that she came from such a religious background. She is an amazing writer. I haven't read any of the sequels myself, but like you, I keep wondering what the sons did and if they prospered or brought ruin on themselves - I don't know I know anyone who has read the sequel.

    Lovely write-up and I'll be back to read the Tanazaki review as well - can't wait!

  4. Forgot to mention...I love the cover of your copy, pity about the typos!

  5. Lesley - it was a good read. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    Les - Yes, someday. I've got too many others on my plate for a while, but it would be interesting to see how the story continues.

    Lotus - I really enjoyed reading about all the various customs. Like you said in your review, she was writing for an American audience so she didn't assume we would know them, which was great. I'm definitely going to hang on to it so I may well read it again someday, who knows! Like you, I like the cover, but those darn typos!

  6. This is definitely one I want to read someday!

  7. thanks for the review - I posted a link to it in my review (hope you don't mind)

  8. Heather- Not at all. I've added a link to your review here as well.

  9. Well written review. Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize. All the Nobel Prize winners have this indescribably subtlety in their writing.

  10. Nomen Arcanum - I think her Nobel win was well deserved. It's a shame that I still haven't read anything else by her.


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