The Good Earth-Pearl S. Buck
"The Good Earth is Buck’s classic story of Wang Lung, a Chinese peasant farmer, and his wife, O-lan, a former slave. With luck and hard work, the couple’s fortunes improve over the years: They are blessed with sons, and save steadily until one day they can afford to buy property in the House of Wang—the very house in which O-lan used to work. But success brings with it a new set of problems. Wang soon finds himself the target of jealousy, and as good harvests come and go, so does the social order. Will Wang’s family cherish the estate after he’s gone? And can his material success, the bedrock of his life, guarantee anything about his soul?"
What I loved most was, like Wang Lung, the land. Most of the time while reading this though I just kept getting irked and angry because all the slaves and the slave references were constantly a turn off. There was a stupid emphasis on beauty which made anyone female into an object which only served to make every character, except perhaps for O-Lan, despicable. And I found myself so angry O-Lan was such a weak character despite my best intentions. And every moment that a character had an idea of getting to know each other my hopes were raised and then dashed, like when Wang Lung had the passing idea of asking his new wife where she came from and he stops himself because it wasn't fair to demand her thoughts when she already belonged to him. There's a twisted logic to that, yes, but my teeth gritted. The emphasis on filial duty bothered me because it made everyone just plain selfish. If you are guaranteed filial duty, you need not to do anything to earn it. I guess I just found everyone so selfish just about all the time and there are few ways to annoy me more in a book. I get it that this is a book about a culture set far in the past and completely alien to my own but the obsession with appearance and what everyone thought of you was so overbearing especially since there was not a single character whose opinion I cared about.
And I'm no stranger to books about societies focused on appearance and conformity but I also got really annoyed by the style of writing. It was far too “translated” seeming for my taste. I honestly hoped I was reading a translation because that would justify the style but then I figured out that Pearl Buck is American, born in West Virginia. I'm afraid my patience ran so thin it's not even funny. I guess it shows a certain level of skill but it gave a note of falseness to the whole thing.
I just ranted a little here. I should mention that I loved the part where it was about what would an illiterate person make of religious pamphlets. This book functioned as a good parable about hierarchy and how quickly the rich can fall. I also loved how the land was treasured. There was no real joy or positivity except for the land though-everything else was just horrible.
“Yes but there was the land. Money and food are eaten, and gone, and if there is not sun and rain in proportion, there is again hunger...is there any way whereby the rich who oppress us can make it rain so that I can work on the land?”