Some of the books that change our lives are ones we picked up out of curiosity, or on a recommendation, or perhaps because we received them as gifts or had them read to us as little children. I could name many books that ultimately shaped my worldview that I discovered in those settings. This book, though, the one I’m going to write about, I found in my sophomore English classroom. That’s ages 15 to 16 in the American system. In fact, I found most of the books that I hold as standards of good literature during my high school years or through my high school teachers.
When I learned that we were reading The Good Earth, by someone named Pearl S. Buck, I was a little disappointed. I’d never heard of this person, or this book. It couldn’t be very famous. It would most likely be a flop, just like Beowulf (bad translation, switching teachers & hormones made going over that poem complete torture). I read it anyway, and was instantly captivated. Nothing in my background prepared me to love this book. I was raised in a Caucasian, middle-class family in the Seattle area. Buck tells the story of a poor farming couple eking out their survival in the fields of rural, pre-industrial, pre-Revolutionary China. I had my needs taken care of and worked for spending money. The characters, Wang Lung and O-lan, faced intense hardships, suffering and societal upheaval. What was it then, that so drew me to The Good Earth?
Answer: Intense difference, or ‘otherness.’ I know that each of us have moments when we realize that the world is not just our immediate surroundings. Perhaps most people attain that knowledge at an earlier age. I do not know. What I do know is that The Good Earth was one of the catalysts for my lifelong love of travel, different cultures and language acquisition. The lives that Buck described were so foreign from my own, and I was appalled by my ignorance. This is the first book that brought home to me the fact that most of the world is strange and different. It broadened my horizons, and introduced me to an entire globe-full of possibilities and cultures. The Good Earth contains a universal human story, but somehow for me that translated to an appreciation for that which is not universal – in other words, the vivid regionalisms and local traditions which make up most of our daily lives and routines.
Its doubtful anyone else in that sophomore English class felt the same way about Buck’s novel, or that it evoked the same reactions in them as in me. But The Good Earth is an abiding and powerful masterpiece of modern literature. It inspired in some small way my own worldwide travels, historical and cultural studies, and interest in all things different and curious. For that, I will always claim it as a book that changes lives.
The Good Earth is a poignant tale about the life and labors of a Chinese farmer during the sweeping reign of the country's last emperor.
Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics.
"I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, landmark story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is a must read for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.
Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards. Her brilliant novel – beloved by millions of readers – is a universal tale of the destiny of man.
(summary by Goodreads)
Celia is the blogger behind the hilarious and informative Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia, one of my favourite blogs.
This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.