Thursday, May 17, 2012

"The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck

I finished this a few weeks ago, and I'm surprised I forgot to write about this book because I loved it.  I had read it before in high school, I believe.  It had been several months since I had hosted book club so I volunteered and selected The Good Earth.

The story follows the life of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese farmer living near the Yangtze River.  The story begins at the nineteenth century draws to a close.  Wang Lung lives alone with his father and scrapes by the best he can working the land.  He loves the land.

In the first chapter Wang Lung is preparing to meet O-lan, the slave of wealthy land owners in the village, whom his father had paid for to be his son's bride.  She comes home with him and they work the land together. She bears children and they become more prosperous.  Then a drought comes and they are starving and destitute. They even kill Wang Lung's beloved ox for food.  On the brink of death Wang Lung decides to take his family south, where it is rumored that there is abundant food.  O-lan sells their furniture and they later buy tickets for the train that takes them to a new city.  O-lan and the three children survive day-to-day by begging off the wealthy passersby while Wang Lung pulls rickshaws.

At this time China is in the middle of a revolution, and the wealthy are forced to leave the city.  A house of a rich family is raided by the poverty-stricken and Wang Lung and O-lan obtain enough money to go home and begin farming.  Wang Lung is able to buy more land and becomes quite prosperous, hiring men to labor over his land for him.  Even when flood ruins all the neighboring farms, Wang Lung is prepared and able to feed his family and continue to gain riches.

A well-to-do man who cannot work the land for the floods becomes an idle man, and soon Wang Lung finds himself in the company of a woman named Lotus Blossom who works in a brothel.  He brings her home as his concubine.

With time Wang Lung becomes so wealthy he purchases all the land of the great, wealthy family from which his father purchased O-lan, and the house the family had vacated during bad times.  But he missed the land, and his sons prefer wealth to land.

This is one of my favorite stories.  The cultural differences force one to think beyond the realm of experience to discover the human similarities shared with Buck's characters.

For the book club meeting I prepared some orange chicken and white rice, red-dyed hard-boiled eggs and some fortune cookies from the store.  My brother-in-law served a Mandarin speaking LDS mission in California and I borrowed some knick-knacks to adorn the table.  I wish I had thought to bring my camera, because I impressed myself with the display.

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