Pearl S. Buck

THE LAUREATE: Pearl Sidenstryker was born in West Virginia in 1892 to Presbyterian ministers, who immediately returned to China after she was born. Her father weathered the Boxer Rebellion among the people. Pearl returned to the US to attend Randolf-Macon, and then went back to China where she almost immediately married a land developer. She stayed in China until 1934, when she was forced into retiring as a missionary because she said the Chinese don’t need a centralized, organized religion dominated by missionaries who didn’t care about the Chinese people or their culture. What nerve! She began her prolific writing career after she returned to the US for good. She also started an adoption agency for Asian and mixed-race children that has helped place hundreds of thousands of children and spread to eight countries. She died in 1973.

WHAT I’M READING: The only book by her that anyone has ever heard of, The Good Earth

REVIEW: I was surprised by how sensitive The Good Earth was. Granted, that’s because I read it expecting a string of awful stereotypes, but it turned out to be basically the same basic story as Growth of the Soil. Wang Lung, our protagonist, starts the novel by getting married. Finally, there’s a woman in the house to do the cooking! He works his little plot of land and she helps him with his crops while doing all the housework and having children. Wang Lung buys a patch of good rice land from the local rich family, which is falling apart from sex and opium. After a bad year, Wang Lung and his family flee to a city in the south, where they beg and do hard labor for a year and scrape every penny together to make their way back and buy more land when they get there. After several good harvests in a row, during which Wang Lung uses his profits to buy more land from the rich family, Wang Lung himself becomes a rich and respected man. He falls in with a prostitute, who he makes his second wife. As the years pass, he finds himself becoming richer and richer, and more and more like the rich old family he is replacing, but he tries to keep himself grounded in the soil (sorry about that- there wasn’t a better way to put it). His sons become townsmen and have never worked hard in their lives, and his daughter marries into a large family. On his deathbed, after hearing rumors of some kind of uprising, he tells his sons that they must never sell the land, because that spells the doom of a mighty house.

RECOMMENDED: I suppose so. This was much better than I expected, and as far as fiction about a culture by an outsider goes, it seems well written.

WHAT’S NEXT: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow


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