The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
March 26, 2010 § 21 Comments
Beginning this Asian journey was Mee’s choice of reading Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. Prior to this, I’ve only vaguely heard of her name before, but didn’t know anything about her, much less about her work. Interestingly, though, when I brought the book home from the library, my mum immediately recognised her name, and told me that she’s read a lot of her books. This in itself is quite something, considering the fact that my mum can borrow the same book from the library twice and not know that she’s read the book or author before, until she gets to about page 50.
That aside, my mum did comment that she loved reading Pearl Buck’s books when she was younger. So I knew that I would be in for a good book.
It says on the back of the book that it presents “a graphic view” of China, and never was there a more honest blurb. The book starts with Wang Lung’s marriage day. As a farmer, there is much observation of the weather, of the coming rain, and the happiness of the anticipated harvest. It can be awfully mundane, this keen interest in the weather, and yet it rings so true, and at once, I saw in my mind’s eye the land extending from his little house, the rolling clouds just beyond, the subtle wind. I saw the dark room in which he dwelled; I heard his father coughing and complaining about not getting his warm water quickly enough. Everything was there, right in front of my eyes.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve grown up watching the many movies that depict this side of China: the farmers working their land, hair tied in pigtails, work clothes soiled, sleeves rolled up to their elbows. And I don’t know how people who have not watched movies like this before would be able to imagine the details of Wang Lung’s life and dwelling like I have. But Pearl Buck definitely did a good job painting such vivid scenes, and in such simple language too.
As I mentioned, the story starts with Wang Lung’s marriage day. And so the story continues, as Wang Lung starts a new life with his wife, O-lan, a slave from the rich House of Huang.
This is a book that reads pretty much like how life really is: one thing leads to another, and it becomes quite impossible to say something without mentioning the next, and very soon, there you have the whole story laid out like a carpet in front of you. It plods along slowly, like a farmer working on his land, raising and lowering his hoe upon the land tirelessly, day in day out, in hopes that the good earth will yield him a good harvest. It is a patient book, a story that is told without rush or hurry, like a painting done with clean broad strokes.
Thus spring wore on again and again and vaguely and more vaguely as these years passed he felt it coming. But still one thing remained to him and it was his love for his land.
This is a book that is honest: it doesn’t ask for pity for a particular character, nor does it ask that you look with disgust at another. It tells the story like how it is, it gives no apologies, and it makes no excuses. It’s a story of how the beauty and ugliness in life and people share the same space.
And men and women labored at the cutting and contriving of heavy furs for the winter and of soft light furs for spring and at the thick brocaded sils, to cut and shape them into sumptuous robes for the ones who ate of the profusion at the markets, and they themselves snatched a bit of course blue cotton cloth and sewed it hastily together to cover their bareness.
This is a book that lets you get up close and personal with the characters, and truly, for a few days I forgot that they were characters in a book, and thought of them as my own family.
* Note: The book we’ve chosen (Claire’s choice) for next quarter (last week of June) is Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City.
* Note #2: I don’t want to ruin this book for those who’ve not read this yet, so I’m putting some of my other thoughts on page 2. As a note of precaution, some of the comments might also carry spoilers.
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