|The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
Pulitzer Prize-winning story of peasants in pre-revolutionary China.
As The Good Earth opens, the Chinese peasant and farmer Wang Lung is going to a rich man's house to bring home a servant who will become his wife. He decides to celebrate by putting a small portion of tea leaf into his morning cup of hot water. His aged father, however, scolds him for being such a spendthrift. After all, he says, they are just peasants.
This opening scene sets the tone of the novel, which tells the story of Wang Lung's rise from poor peasant to a relatively landowner. He and his new wife, O-Lan, start out as typical 18th century Chinese peasants--owning the land that they live on, but barely making a living at farming, despite their intense physical efforts to get by. When famine comes, the land yields nothing and they are forced to travel to a large city and become beggars.
O-Lan and Wang Lung's fortune ultimately does improve and they not only manage to come back to their farm, but they gradually buy up more land and, through hard work, gradually become fairly wealthy.
The story is partly about Wang Lung's struggle as a poor Chinese peasant. But it's also about his own personal faults and how the wealth that he acquires gradually corrupts him. We also see the difference between his own nature, and that of his sons, who grow up with wealth and never have to work hard like Wang Lung did.
The Good Earth is a book that everyone should read at some point. The writing is quite simple, but intensely beautiful. And the humanity of Wang Lung's struggle, as well as his very human faults, is universal.