Books on GIF #77 — 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck


Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's book is 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck. 
I hope all of you are enjoying your Passover or Easter weekends, and if you celebrate neither of those things, I hope you are blessedly relaxing. I am not relaxed! I had a very hard time writing about this book. I really liked it, but wasn't sure what to say. I was flummoxed, like:I could tell you that 'The Good Earth' won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and helped Buck win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. I could say that the book is billed as offering great insight into China for the Western reader, but I don't think I understand China any better having read it, unlike last week's book, 'Little Reunions' by Eileen Chang. You could have set this book anywhere in the world as it deals with the universal theme of: 
I could go on about the biblical overtones of the book, both in its focus on virtues and vices, as well as in the parable feel of the writing. But the thing that keeps popping into my head are two pearls. So these we will discuss. When the protagonist, Wang Lung, and his wife, O-Lan, are driven by famine from their rural farm to the big city, they take part in a riot and help ransack a rich family's home. Wang Lung is able to obtain some gold coins, while O-Lan takes a jeweled necklace. Wang Lung uses the money to finance the restoration of their farm, while O-Lan keeps the necklace hidden. Prior to her marriage, she was a slave in a rich family's home, and she isn't treated much better in Wang Lung's home. He cares about her, and is actually fascinated by her, but he can't get beyond society's rules that women are in a distant second place to men. So he never asks about her thoughts and feelings, and he treats her with the affection one would show for a barn animal. To him, her job is to produce sons and do the housework, full stop. When Wang Lung discovers her necklace, he demands it from her to sell it to purchase more land and supplies for their farm. She gives it over, but asks only for two pearls from it to keep for herself. He agrees. Later, when Wang Lung has become a wealthy landowner, he becomes infatuated with a prostitute, moves her into his home and demands the pearls from O-Lan so he can give them to the side woman. I was like: 
I am very angry with you, Wang Lung! I mean, all O-Lan does is EVERYTHING. She works the fields. She does the cooking, the cleaning, the mending and the child rearing. Get this! In one scene, she is working while PREGNANT in the fields when she suddenly heads home, shuts the bedroom door, gives birth, then comes out and cooks dinner. She is loyal and hardworking despite her life without agency or freedom. All she asked for was two pearls to keep sewn into her clothes. Wang Lung takes them citing his authority as man of the house. It occurs to him only in his despair after O-Lan's death how deeply he wronged her. He is like:
Too late, bro! There are several times in the book where Wang Lung comes close to breaking through and treating O-Lan as a human being in her own right, but each time he retreats instead to the safety of misogyny. As I mentioned above, I really like this book despite my frustrations with Wang Lung. It is beautifully written and tells a powerful story about relationships, the exploitation of working people and the corruption of money. It is also a paean to the planet and its bounty that nourishes and sustains us. And it reminds us, like the holidays many of us are celebrating this weekend, that we come from the earth, and to the earth we shall return. So take care of it, and each other.

My rating:

'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck was originally published in 1931. An edition by Washington Square Press was published in 2004. 357 pages. 

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Next Sunday, and the Sundays after that: I'm currently reading 'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante, which I hope to finish by next week. Also in the queue are 'The Vorrh' by B. Catling, 'Evicted' by Matthew Desmond and 'How Should a Person Be?' by Sheila Heti, among others. Got a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want me to review? Shoot me an email.

If you missed last week's edition, here's my review of 'Little Reunions' by Eileen Chang.

Want to discuss this or any other book? Hit me up on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Goodreads.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!

Until next time,