Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Have you read “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck?

Reading about Annchee Min's latest novel, "Pearl of China" in China Daily, I was excited to see that one my favourite novels, "The Good Earth" is making headlines again.

The novel is Annchee Min's attempt to make up for her earlier "castigation" of Pearl S. Buck before reading her Pullitzer-prize winning novel. Two of my favourite authors on China face-to-face in one novel. Interesting.

Read my review of AnnChee Min's "Empress Orchid".

I read "The Good Earth" years ago when I was on my "Chinese" theme reading frenzy. Since I can't read in Chinese, all I could do what to pick out books that featured Chinese families etc.

Needless to say, Amy Tan is one of my favourite authors - "The Joy Luck Club" and all her other novels are on my bookshelf.

However, no other book touched me as much as "The Good Earth" did.

Unlike Amy Tan's books which tend to have women as the central figures, Pearl S. Buck's book features a poor farmer named Wang Lung and we follow his humble beginnings as a sweaty, garlic eating farmer who goes to a rich man's house to meet his bride, O-Lan.

Then, we read on about how Wang Lung and O-Lan build their little family together with Wang Lung's old father who only knows how to sit in the sun and demand for his food LOL.

The hardworking and simple-minded couple are blessed with a boy and then a few other children (if I remember correctly). One precious little girl is the apple of Wang Lung's eye, which is quite a touching part of the story...

O-Lan is, of course, THE perfect wife because she is a plain Jane but she is a smart, thrifty woman who is also the ultimate kitchen goddess for with just a bit of soy sauce, salt and cheap, lean cuts of meat, she can whip up a feast that has Wang Lung's guests praising her talents to the skies as they wolf down their dinner and lick their lips :D

You'll also read about Wang Lung and how his family survives the Great Famine - how O-Lan teaches her young son the true meaning of hunger and how to beg for food. I also found the sections of O-Lan's (and most of the average Chinese) encounters with the Christian missionaries and their distributed tracts quite humourous!

"The Good Earth" follows Wang Lung until he reaches a ripe old age and is the proud grandfather of many grandchildren but of course, just like any Chinese family, his family has its fair share of happiness and heartaches.

For me, the saddest and the most poignant part is the love shared between Wang Lung and O-Lan, especially the latter's undying loyalty to her husband.

Sigh..."The Good Earth" is a beautifully-written book, which I have read and re-read almost 10 times and yet I'm never bored of it! For me, it's a book more even more wonderful by the fact that it's written by a Caucasian lady (an American) who "who spent most of the first 42 years of her life in China, from 1892 to 1934".

I am usually suspicious of "foreigners" or "expats" who write books about the country that they live in for a number of years - most of the time, these books are superficial because they don't really get the people or the culture of the people they had lived with during that period of time. In many cases, these "expats" don't even mingle with the locals that much...

But Pearl. S Buck? She knows what she's talking about when it comes to the average Chinese living in rural agrarian China. I see my late Chinese grandmother in O-Lan - her simple, silent and stolid ways of doing things ARE my grandmother. Her thriftiness and her way of salvaging and recycling almost every piece of anything reminds of my grandmother too.

Living in China, I see Wang Lung in the farmer dragging a mountainous pile of cut grass on a wheelbarrow, the sweaty and dirty junk collector who sits outside the apartment or the electrician/plumber/carpenter rolled-into-one who digs into his "box of tricks" to fix whatever goes wrong with the hot water heater, the sink, the washing machine, the stove or anything else that breaks down on me that week ;-)

Besides Pearl of China, which I'll save for later considering the hype surrounding the book now, next on my TBR list are *definitely* the continuation of Pearl S. Buck's tale of Wang Lung in Sons (Good Earth Trilogy, Vol 2) and A House Divided (Good Earth Trilogy, Vol 3). "Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China", "The Mother" and "The Three Daughters of Madame Liang" sounds good too.

If you've read any of her other books, are they as good as "The Good Earth"?

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