Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Good Earth

Our family philosophy is a reading philosophy and I love sharing all the books. In lieu of this philosophy, I want to create a series of posts highlighting books that I would recommend to others because EVERYONE needs good literature. #roseandtoastreads

One of the seemingly ironic aspects of reading this book was that I was always eating whenever I picked it up. Most commonly, I would take it with me to lunch. This felt like a huge indiscretion considering that for the majority of the first half the main character, Wang Lung, and his family are starving, quite literally, to death. Despite the overwhelming guilt I experienced for continually stuffing my face during the reading of this book, I absolutely loved it!

I fully understand how this is a contemporary classic and I am surprised that I had never read it before, especially given that I was subjected to several courses on contemporary lit, post-modern lit, and post-colonial lit; not once did this book appear on course syllabi during my undergraduate career. In Literature. I find this quite absurd to be honest. Although my rant/soap box on the absurdity of my college literary education is one that those close to me hear on a regular basis, I will spare you, my dear readers, except for this one point: The number of books I was forced to read that had very little to contribute to the Great Conversation has left me feeling rather illiterate. Heck, I read God of Small Things, which wasn't my favorite, several times in several courses and let me tell you, there are only so many times one can read about the orange-ice man and not want to vomit in the sink. Once. The answer is once. But not so with The Good Earth.

The characters were believable - i.e. human, experiencing human problems in a world overrun with other humans experiencing different human problems. Wang Lung exhibited many true-to-life flaws and attributes that led to my rejoicing and sorrowing with him throughout his life. A life that begs to be reread. Pearl S. Buck delivers her message without shoving it down your throat (unlike another previously mentioned author, who I'm sure is a wonderful human being and that her book is probably pretty good, but not one that I will read again in this lifetime). She, Buck, explores the conflicts between romance and responsibility in love; the pros and cons of filial obedience; wealth and poverty; and human progression (or digression) intellectually and morally.

This book doesn't detail much in the way of descriptions of China the country, but instead it focuses on one character his life and his family, but I think the setting is important and that as a farmer Wang Lung is tied to his land, his Chinese soil, and the Chinese way of life. However, the setting isn't isolating. I can enjoy the landscape without having set foot in the country; I can appreciate the trials that the revolution spurred without knowing the whole, vast history.

It was an interesting progression from rural life to city life and back to rural life, and that throughout his life Wang Lung is continually connected to the land, his land, even when he's removed from it. His children don't always (or ever) appreciate the life their father has led or his connection to the land, but isn't that also true to human nature? We cannot truly experience or know the life of another, fellow hooman being. We cannot totally and completely appreciate the choices, the trials, the highs, the lows, the values of another, even one we're blood related to. Luckily we have books to teach us; and Wang Lung teaches us that he feels most at home working in the soil, getting dirty, and smelling like garlic. And who doesn't love the smell of garlic?

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