The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Wang Lung is going to get a wife from the great house of Huang. Her name is Olan. She is not pretty, but nor is she ugly. His father counseled him not to get a pretty wife, because she probably wouldn’t be a virgin. Wang Lung takes Olan home and she works hard, right along side Wang Lung in the fields. Soon, she is expecting a baby. It turns out to be a boy. Wang Lung is proud that he is fathering children.
More children come, but so does famine and crop failure. The crops that flourished the year before, do not flourish this year. Wang Lung is forced to pack up his family and go south into the big city to beg for food. They barely make ends meet. One day they decide to go back home. Wang Lung ends up robbing a man in a great house when the soldiers invade the city. With the gold he is able to buy more land.
Times soon prosper for Wang Lung. There are several children now, three of them boys, and two girls. There was one other girl, but she died soon after birth. Wang Lung soon becomes rich. His uncle and aunt move in with him as well.
Things are not good for Olan though. Wang Lunch realizes she is not pretty and takes a second wife. The second wife, Lotus, is pretty, but she does not know the meaning of work. As it turns out, there is something wrong with Olan. Wang Lung realizes too late that he should have valued this woman who worked beside him in good times and bad more than he had. Olan soon dies and so does Wang Lung’s father.
Wang Lung continues to prosper. Grandchildren come into the house. Some things happen that Wang Lung doesn’t like. He tells his sons that they must never sell the land.
What I liked
I’ve read this book before, years ago, and China has always fascinated me. I’ve read a fair number of books set in Asia in one place or the other, and I love learning about the culture there. There is such a wide array of cultures in Asia and cultural practices. It’s all highly interesting.
This is also a family saga type of story. This story tells us the life-cycle of a family. Wang Lung is young, at first, then he gets a wife and has children of his own. He watches as his sons grow up and have their children. It’s interesting to see how the first character’s actions affect the characters who come into being later in the story.
What I didn’t like
Wang Lung may be quite the farmer and entrepreneur, but I’m not overly sympathetic for him, and my grandfather was a farmer himself. He’s a hard worker, but he’s not good in how he treats his family. He treats his workers just fine, as far as hired workers go, but Olan he does not treat well. He never gets her a servant to help in the house. He doesn’t give her gifts. He takes her pearls. She works almost her entire life for Wang Lung, but what does he do for her? She gave everything to him and Wang Lung repays her by not getting her any help and then taking on another woman.
He dragged her through heck and back. No woman wants to travel for days at a time and go live in a hut in a dirty city, with her children. She did it though and she got nothing for it.
Olan made Wang Lung. Without her help, he never would have gotten as far. She might not have been the smartest, but without her support, Wang Lung would have gotten nowhere good.
I also don’t like the fact that one of the babies may not have died of natural causes. It was not uncommon, and still isn’t to a degree, to kill female babies born in China. It’s not something I agree with and I don’t like the idea of it.
Land can definitely mean a lot to some people.
Would you leave your life to go live on the streets in another city if you had no food?
Do you think Olan deserved more credit?