My buddy Andi from Estella’s Revenge has been after me forever to read this book. This amazing, epic book. She picked it for this quarter’s read over at my and Jen‘s Classic Reads Book Club. Discussion started Monday, so if you’ve read it, you’re not too late! Please come and join us! This discussion is going to be so good.
The word epic was created for this book. Not really, but it could have been. The Good Earth is epic in every sense of the word. The Good Earth tells the story of Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer and his family as they struggle to survive a peasant life in old China. It begins with Wang Lung looking at his old father saying, “I need a woman,” to him getting said woman, to them having lots of children. In between there are times of plenty, times of famine, births, deaths, and the acquiring of more land, more glorious land! Wang Lung is obsessed with land! Okay, it’s about a whole lot more, but I don’t want to give too much away.
And the writing. The writing is so beautiful. Witness:
“There was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods…Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together-together-producing the fruit of this earth.”
“Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of the earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from the earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver. Each time before this that he had taken the silver out to give to anyone, it had been like taking a piece of his life and giving it to someone carelessly. But not for the first time, such giving was not pain. He saw, not the silver in the alien hand of a merchant in the town; he saw the silver transmuted into something worth even more than life itself – clothes upon the body of his son.”
“But Wang Lung thought of his land and pondered this way and that, with the sickened heart of deferred hope, how he could get back to it. He belonged, not to this scum which clung to the walls of a rich man’s house; nor did he belong to the rich man’s house. He belonged to the land and he could not live with any fullness until he felt the land under his feet and followed a plow in the springtime and bore a scythe in his hand at harvest.”
Oh, I could quote the whole book at you. Every word, every sentence, felt so carefully constructed, so lovingly crafted. The main characters were so well written. This book was made for me. Or, rather, I was made for it. Either way you put it, I loved this book. The gardener in me loved the farmer in there. Wang Lung was born into a farming family and he embraced it. To say the land was the blood running through is veins is putting it VERY mildly. I have to say, loving land seems like such a Southern thing to me. That probably sounds narrow-minded, but I grew up hearing things like “Buy land, they won’t make any more of it,” and “Hold on to your land” etc, etc. My grandparents (who raised me) were Irish descendants, so I always assumed it was an Irish thing. Plus, I’ve never read a book set in China where someone was so obsessed with his land. Truthfully, I’ve never read a book where a character was so obsessed with land! I am thrilled to have finally read this book!
Fair warning, we’re probably getting into spoiler territory, but I have to get this off my chest.
The only thing I just couldn’t get over was the treatment of women. Wow, did the Chinese have a low opinion of girls and women. I felt for O-lan. Oh, how I felt for O-lan. Acquired from a great house where she was a kitchen slave, she did not find herself elevated very much upon becoming Wang Lung’s wife. He treated her like a possession. He consistently mistreated her. When she arises from giving birth to their first child, she comes back to the field to help. him. work. And does she get a thank you? No. She gets his silent admiration, which means nothing. He never appreciated her until she was gone. And that made me hate Wang Lung. There were many things I liked about him, but that. That was inexcusable. Makes me glad the revolution happened and I hope the Chinese have improved their attitudes.
Okay, rant over.
I listened to the audio production by Blackstone Audio. Anthony Heald read The Good Earth and did a marvelous job. I have never listened to him read a book before, but I will definitely seek him out in the future. I loved the way he did the old man, Wang Lung’s father. And he was able to feminize his voice for the women, despite having quite a deep voice. All in all, he made it a pleasure to listen to this book.
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