The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
This was my fourth book in the Books of the Century Challenge. I found another gem of a classic that I have somehow missed reading.
The Good Earth was especially interesting to me because of the memoir I recently read- Falling Leaves. The Chinese history that Yen Mah relates in her memoir takes place only a few decades after the historical events in The Good Earth.
Wang Lung is a farmer and the son of a farmer. He is a simple man who lives off the earth and values his land. He marries a simple woman- O-Lan -and together they live off the earth and care for Wang Lung's old father. Their years pass and their children are born. They experience a short time of plenty when the earth is prosperous. Then the rains don't come, and they experience a time of famine. Wang Lung and his family flee to the city but always he longs for his good earth. Eventually Wang Lung will make it back to his land and come full circle due to the bounty of the earth.
There were so many themes throughout this book, I could not possibly explore them all in a short review. Although the version of the classic I had gave a timeline of Chinese history, the actual historical events don't come into play in the story very often except as they touch Wang Lung's life. He is a simple farmer and has not much to do with the politics of the day.
The ironic poverty to wealth story and the way Wang Lung's life comes full circle; the strong character of O-lan, Wang Lung's quiet wife who was a former slave; the treatment of Wang Lung's mentally retarded daughter (the little fool); the treatment of all women in the culture at that time; the devotion to family and "saving face"- all of these themes make the book a very interesting and thought-provoking read.
I am enjoying my tour through the classics with this reading challenge, and The Good Earth was another classic I'm glad I finally discovered.