Blake Snow

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Book review: The Good Earth is good reading, like Steinbeck on Chinese culture

I recently finished reading The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. It was the best-selling book in America in 1931.

Despite being nearly 100 years old, I found both the writing and story to be a fascinating inside look into Chinese culture, as observed by the author who lived in the country for many years with her missionary parents.

While reading the book, these adages quickly came to mind: “History repeats” and “You can’t always get what you want.” I also came up with another: “Corrupt culture corrupts men faster than usual.”

Rating: ★★★★☆

These were my favorite passages:

  • Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; 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.
  • But out of the woman’s great brown breast the milk gushed forth for the child, milk as white as snow, and when the child suckled at one breast it flowed like a fountain from the other, and she let it flow. There was more than enough for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out carelessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inexhaustible life his mother gave him.
  • 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.
  • Then in this city out of which something new was always springing at him, Wang Lung saw another new thing he did not understand.
  • But over the fields and the water the moonlight hung, a net of silver mist, and in his body his blood ran secret and hot and fast.
  • But O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away; only she beat the more steadily with her wooden stick upon the clothes spread over the stone.
  • Then the good land did again its healing work and the sun shone on him and healed him and the warm winds of summer wrapped him about with peace.
  • Now five years is nothing in a man’s life except when he is very young and very old.
  • Wang Lung felt as though air and sunlight had been suddenly cut off because of the numbers of grey men tramping heavily and in unison through the town.
  • There was the third son to wed one day soon, and with that over there was nothing left to trouble him in his life, and he could be at peace. But there was no peace.

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