Friday, October 15, 2010

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Rating: 4 & 1/2 Stars 

1932 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Pearl Buck was Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938

Published in 1931, ‘The Good Earth’ won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for its author, Pearl S. Buck, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

When we first meet Wang Lung, the book’s hero, we see him as an eager yet nervous young bridegroom, who diffidently approaches the debauched House of Hwang, to collect his bride from one of their many female slaves. The book takes us to a full circle of Wang’s life.

Neither saint nor sinner, as good as many, and better than some, Wang is a riveting hero – a peasant farmer with a fire in his belly. A fearlessly hard worker, where some would merely dream, he forges his ambitions into reality through dint of perseverance, and yes, some luck. A proud father of three sons, and a reluctant father to a daughter he comes to cherish above all others; and, though not born a gentleman, he is at his best a gentle man, who surrenders neither his integrity nor his humanity even in the direst of times.

Unlike Wang, O-lan, the former slave who becomes his wife, remains enigmatic till the end of the book - a silent woman whose speech can be startlingly effective. Haunted by a Past that she rarely shares with anyone, taking no joy in herself, and finally faithlessly betrayed, O-lan is a painful figure. She is nevertheless a sympathetic character, not a pitiful one. She can move Wang to alternating bouts of pride of possession, gratitude, guilt, kindness, and cruelty, but alas, not to love.

Wang’s heart isn’t his own to give. Despite occasionally heeding his fleeting infatuations, despite his changing fortunes, and in spite of his innately restless social climbing, Wang can never be distracted for too long from his one abiding love, the land. It calls him home when he wanders away, heals his sickness of heart and spirit, absorbs the labor he pours into it, and blesses his fierce love with a bountiful prosperity. It is the silent witness to the brief passion play that is a man’s existence, before finally enfolding him into its all-forgiving embrace.

Ms. Buck’s writing has the austere and simple elegance of Chinese Brush Painting. There are no literary pyrotechnics, and we don’t miss them. An American born in China, she has the rare gift of writing about an alien culture without a trace of condescension. Whether she is describing the abundance of food seen by a man on the verge of starvation, the contrast between the lives of the rich and the poor, or the devastation of famine on an impoverished people, she manages to bridge the cultural and national divides in a tale that is poignantly universal.

No comments: