Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Good Earth

My book club has been reading 'The Good Earth' - a timeless classic written by Pearl S. Buck in 1931. It is one of those books that calls you to read sections over and over and then once more aloud for the lyrical beauty of the words.

It is a book about the life of Chinese peasants...about man's fundamental connection to place, to the earth -

"Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of his earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from this earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver."

I found myself quite literally wrapped into the story; Buck's simple descriptions bringing the grit of earth to my fingers and scent of it to my nose. It is a stunning book - not only by the simplicity and poetry of her writing, but the fact it was only her second novel (of dozens to come). I love how she pulled me along through images, the pace increasing until she said what she really wanted to say.

"Day by day, beneath the opulence of this city, Wang Lung lived in the foundations of poverty upon which it was laid. With the food spilling out of the markets, with the streets of the silk shops flying brilliant banners of black and red and orange silk to announce their wares, with rich men clothed in satin and in velvet, soft-fleshed rich men with their skin covered with garments of silk and their hands like flowers for softness and perfume and the beauty of idleness, with all of these for the regal beauty of the city, in that part where Wang Lung lived there was not food enough to feed savage hunger and no clothes enough to cover bones."

As I read, I marveled at the author's style and her skill in creating characters that evoked emotion. And how, with every turn, I found myself shaking my head...'no, don't go there Wang your eyes....' And through it all, she showed how even very good people have a dark side - and that it is as much a part of who we are as the goodness.

As a writer, I think it is important to read such books, to dwell in them and to read them aloud so my ears can hear the music and rhythm of another's creativity.


Anonymous said...

I love those moments when someone tells their story and the effects of their tale sorts out my own personal feelings that have been neglected and perhaps forgotten or overlooked, allowing me to gain a greater perspective of my life and the world that I engage my self within with each moment.

Its like we read to expand the mind and to uncontract the Heart.

Anonymous said...

Pearl Buck's work I like. I have not read any of it in years. Now that you have mentioned it I might have to look some of it up and have familiar things to read. I have a book on the waiting list at the library. The person must have lost it as it is waiting a long time. lol

babalucci said...

Oh, I need to read "The Good Earth" again. It was required reading my freshman year in high school. I know I was too young and inexperienced to have understood it then. I love the two excerpts you included. Yes, the character development and the often non-existent line between good guys and bad guys. But also how you can feel the place (feel it and not just see it). Beautiful!
~Angela (babalucci in unravelling)

Laura Hegfield said...

This is so random as my teen age daughters would say...or perhaps synchronistic would be a better word choice. I have never read any of Pearl Buck's books (and I know I should)....but here's the syncronistic thing, I just read your post above about place and being called home...Pearl S Buck was one of my Grandmother's best customers at her children's clothing store in Doylestown, Pa ...a town near where I grew up... my "home land" if you will. My grandfather had a farm near by. Weird huh that these two posts should be one above the other and I just happened by your site for the first time today? Hmmm.

Deborah Carr said...

So interesting Laura...What if there are greater patterns than we realize? I think Pearl is calling you to her books! Or that someone is drawing your attention to home.

Relyn said...

I keep meaning to read this. Actually, can't believe I never have. I think your post just moved it up on my list.