Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Musing Over a Literary Gem

I am a huge fan of Pearl S. Buck, the author of the literary classic, The Good Earth, and many other masterpieces of literature.

I began my journey in discovering the abilities of this amazing writer years ago, when I borrowed The Good Earth from a friend. The subject matter of the book wasn't too enticing to me at first, but once I started reading, I became engrossed in not only the story itself, but the introduction to Chinese history and culture I knew nothing about.

At the time, all I knew about China was what any ignorant simpleton would know about such a faraway and foreign place... that it is where almost everything consumers consume is made, and where billions of people live under strict population control laws that favor males.

It's safe to say that Buck's The Good Earth was what opened my eyes to not only China, but the entire Asian world that is influenced in one way or another by China's ancient culture and wisdom.

Though The Good Earth is a literary masterpiece that stands all on its own, it is in fact the first volume of a three-part saga. Buck wrote The Good Earth to introduce us to the Wang family and its farming beginnings, and final climb to land ownership through China's political and social changes.

Sons, the second volume of the trilogy, is equally as good, and in fact, is perhaps my favorite of the trilogy. It documents the lives of the second generation of the Wang family; the three sons of Wang Lung, The Good Earth's main character. One son is a lazy, indulgent and womanizing landlord, the other a stingey merchant with nothing but money on his mind, and the other is a soldier hungry for power and conquest. They all abandon their father's and grandfather's love of working the earth, i.e., farming to pursue their own interests.

And finally, A House Divided is the third volume. It reincarnates the love Wang Lung had for farming in one of his grandsons, who despite seeing the western world and being trained as a soldier, returns to till the earth the way his grandfather did.

The Good Earth Trilogy is a perfect example of the circle of life, not just of the individual's life, but of the way everything goes in a circle and ends where it started. Wang Lung struggled to ingrain his love of working the earth in his three sons, and died knowing his sons did not love the earth he worked so hard to obtain and use. What Wang Lung failed to realize, perhaps was that the son so seemingly unlike him, was the one most similar to him. Wang the Tiger, the youngest of Wang Lung's three sons, was a soldier who rebelled against his lord to become a big lord himself, and like his father wanted nothing more than to ingrain his ultimate love of power into his own son. But the son Wang the Tiger wanted to be a soldier, loved earth more than power.

The genius of The Good Earth Trilogy, is that each book is a masterpiece all on its own, yet it's all connected like a big circle that spans three generations. It's a love story unlike any other... a love story between a man (any man) and his livelihood. That is something that translates into any language and culture, east or west.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

I had forgotten how much I loved reading that book in high school -- it was such a relief to actually like something I was force fed. :) I don't think I brought that one with me to Malaysia, but I'll have to pick it up again one day and then maybe finish out the trilogy!