The Good Earth

A picture of a taupe curtain behind a dresser on which the book titled "The Good Earth", is standing next to a green, white and brown colored Tang dynasty style Chinese horse figurine with a beige and white flower arrangement behind the figurine, all of which are sitting on top of a white crocheted doily my mother crocheted.
The S. in Pearl S. Buck, stands for Sydenstricker. Now, you have another answer for your next trivia quiz.

The Good Earth is a classic work of fiction. There are 357 pages in this printing.

The book was written by Pearl S. Buck. She published this book in 1931.

This is the 1st of three books in the House of Earth trilogy. The second book (Sons), was published in 1932. The third book (A House Divided), was published in 1935. A House Divided was the final book in the trilogy.

The Good Earth was a best selling book in the United States in 1931 and 1932. It was so well received, that Pearl S. Buck was awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1932. Later in her career (in 1938), she won the Nobel prize for literature.

A Bit About the Story

The Good Earth is a story about the life of a poor farmer and his family, over a span of about 70 years. The story begins with Wang Lung and his aging father living in the house where Wang Lung was raised (on their little piece of farmland). The home itself is made of the earth from the land he owns. It is made of great squares of earthen brick that were dug out of the ground, thatched with straw from their own wheat.

The home is plenty for Wang Lung and his father (consisting of a central room for heat, food preparation, cooking, eating), and two adjoining rooms for sleeping (one for Wang Lung and one for his father). Wang Lung’s mother had died some time prior to the beginning of the story.

Wang lung is a hard worker. He works his land growing wheat and various other crops for their survival. He harvest enough to feed himself and his father. He saves seeds from each harvest so he can plant the next crop when the land is again ready. He saves some harvest to sell when prices are high in the winter. He is smart about these kinds of things.

We begin with Wang Lung thinking about how much better he and his father will be once Wang Lung is married. The marriage will be done so that someone other than the two men can clean the house, prepare the meals and eventually take care of the sons to come.

Wang Lung’s father specifies what type of woman should be brought home. She must not be pretty (for if she is pretty, she will want pretty clothing and will not be a virgin, as all of the lords of the great house will have had their way with her). She will need to work (making clothing, helping with the land and bearing children).

The woman Wang Lung has arranged to marry, comes from the great house in town. He has not seen her yet. Her name is O-lan, but he doesn’t know her name at this point. She is currently a slave, but the woman of the great house allows her female slaves to be married off (providing none of the lords of the house desire her).

For Wang Lung’s purposes she does not need to be pretty, but she is not to be pock marked nor will he take her if she has a split upper lip (these qualifications are very important to Wang Lung).

O-lan doesn’t speak much. She knows how to behave properly towards and around other people. She knows how to cook. She can sew and mend. She is strong so helps with the fields often. She bears him sons, but also a couple of slaves (a slave is what they call a female child).

With the help of his wife the farm produces enough crops to sustain the family, to have surplus for planting and for selling at a higher price when demand is high and prices are better in the winter. Due to this, Wang Lung is able to purchase some additional land from the great house.

Even though he has more money available to himself and his family than before, the household is careful to not flaunt their new level of prosperity (so as not to be mooched off of by lazy family members or robbed by local thugs).

A time of great famine comes along and the family must leave their homeland for a while. Lack of food causes a girl child to become a fool (she ends up with some form of mental retardation, likely due to lack of food at crucial times during brain development). They travel to a big city (a hundred miles South), where they find hand outs, where Wang Lung can work and where the family can beg to sustain them until they can find a way back home.

I’m not going to tell you any more about this story, other than to tell you that it drew me in. I had read this story long ago in high school. I had remembered it was a good book but had forgotten quite a bit about the story. I decided to add it to my collection of book reviews for you to consider reading.

Pearl S. Buck’s Knowledge of Chinese People

I found it interesting that some very recent critics of the story said this book was a horrible representation of the Chinese people.

First, I would remind critics that the story is fiction. It isn’t real. It was a story written to entertain a reader.

At the time it was written, Pearl S. Buck wasn’t seen as someone who could write a book about a poor Chinese peasant farmer and the life he might live.

If the critics had taken the time to research Pearl S. Buck’s life, they would have found out that she was raised in China from the time she was four months old (in 1894).

Most of her life before 1934 was spent in Zhenjiang China (40 years). Her name there was Sai Zhenzhu.

In my research to find out which languages she spoke, I read her 1st language is sited to be Chinese. I always find a statement like this to be odd, because in China there is Old Chinese, Middle Chinese, Standard Mandarin, Standard Cantonese and a bunch of regional languages of Chinese. As far as I was able to find out she spoke Mandarin. She was the most comfortable with this language throughout her life.

Her father was a Presbyterian missionary so she was likely exposed to many different levels of prosperity (or lack thereof), in the Chinese people her father worked with. As a missionary she likely knew about peasant life and/or saw it first hand. She became a Presbyterian missionary herself, so likely heard about the past and saw life for the poor.

A Treasure

I was treasure hunting one day (rummaging through about 200 books at a Goodwill store), when I found the hardbound copy of A House Divided. I bought it for $2.00. It is one of my collection of old book treasures (just one of many that I have found at a thrift store).

I always find it strange, the things that people discard at the thrift store, but it goes back to, “One mans junk is another mans treasure”.

A House Divided, written by Pearl S. Buck, published in 1935

What People (Including Me), are Saying About This Book

Before I review a book here, I read it. Even though I had read this story in the past (because it was so very long ago that I had read it), I started reading it again. Once I started I didn’t want to stop reading it. I found myself laying in bed, reading until my eyes wouldn’t focus well enough to read. I had to stop until the next evening when I did it all over again.

I really enjoyed reading it. It was obviously a page turner for me. I am looking forward to reading the 2nd and 3rd book in this trilogy.

This book got a four out of five from Goodreads.

It got a five out of five from Common Sense Media.

It was selected for Oprah’s Book Club.

You may find a copy at your local library.

At the time of this writing, I find the book can be purchased through Amazon in either paperback, hard bound copies or through Kindle. I don’t see any offered in Audiobook.

If you would like to go back and find another book to read about, click here.

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