Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Lessons from "The Good Earth"

A few weeks ago I read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  Although I had heard the author's name, I knew nothing about her or the book.  In reading about the author of a book that Kate and I had read, Understood Betsy, it was said that that author had loved this book and so I was intrigued.  I requested it from the library and I was hooked right away.  {FYI, the two books have nothing in common}

The Good Earth is a story of rural Chinese peasants around the late 1920's.  A young man and his father own a small piece of land which they farm and in the first chapter Wang Lung is going to pick up his bride.  He's quite happy at the thought that he will no longer have to start the fire in the mornings and make food for his father because now he will have a wife to do that.  He's never met her, it has all been arranged by his father.  The family has very little. There is no electricity, none of the amenities of the 20's in America.  Wang Lung and his wife work from sun up to sun down and they do manage to save some money.  He is very careful and his wife never wastes anything.  I loved this...."And what he did for the farm implements, his wife, O-Lan, did for the house implements.  If an earthen jar leaked she did not, as other women did, cast it aside and talk of a new one.  Instead she mixed earth and clay and welded the crack and heated it slowly and it was as good as new."  I was reminded of the Proverbs 31 description of a wise woman and how she brings her husband wealth and honor.  O-Lan did that for Wang Lung, despite how she may have been treated at times. 

This is a story of their life, from beginning to end.  There are times of wealth and times of want.  And there are many decisions made by Wang Lung based on his desires for land and wealth and pleasure.  Some are good decisions, many are not.

During the time that I was reading this book, one Sunday our pastor was preaching from the book of James.  I noticed these verses and thought of Wang Lung.  From James 1:9-11...
                   "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; it's flower falls and its beauty perishes.  So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits."

I was close enough to the end of the book that I could see how his riches had not brought him happiness, but rather how they were "fading away" and how they had brought him luxurious comforts, but not true comfort.

Of course, I was fascinated and somewhat horrified by the language used to describe women and daughters.  It was nothing that I had not heard of, but it had been a while since I had thought about such things and about how those beliefs and feelings in that country have played a part in us having a daughter adopted from there.

Kate was asking all kinds of questions tonight.  Whether she had brothers and sisters, why the people in China can only have one child, and then she said that of course she probably did have a brother and  that's why her Chinese parents couldn't keep her.  With my heart in my throat, {and dry eyes, thank you very much!} I told her not necessarily, but maybe.   I told her that if they were very poor, they may not have been able to keep any children.  I realize there are other scenarios that are possible, but she's 9 and I'm not ready to discuss all of the possibilities nor do I think she should hear them at this point.

Anyway, it was a fascinating book!  Now I'm very curious to read some of Pearl Buck's other books and the history of foot binding too.  I mean, who comes up with things like that?!


  1. Sounds very good, Sharron. I need to get that on my Pinterest board ... or my Goodreads "To-Read" ... or maybe you should just remind me every couple of weeks or so. Ha!

    1. I don't think I'll do that. :) Then you'd be so sick of hearing about it, you wouldn't want to read it!

  2. I read The Good Earth a few years ago & I thought it was powerfully & beautifully written but I was haunted by it for some time. It was so raw, especially in its depiction of how O-Lan was treated towards the end. I was surprised it affected me so strongly but then Pearl Buck is a great writer. Good to read your review.

    1. I know what you mean! I found out it is part of three, but I just can't read the next one yet. I thought it was so interesting and good, but yet heavy and sort of sad. Thanks for your comment!

    2. I know what you mean! I found out it is part of three, but I just can't read the next one yet. I thought it was so interesting and good, but yet heavy and sort of sad. Thanks for your comment!