goodearthThe Good Earth has been one of my favorite books since I first read it at age 14, although I never re-read it until just last week. Before I recommend it, I wanted to be sure that it really was as good as I remembered it being. It was.

Pearl S. Buck, although not Chinese, lived in China for much of her life and so had an intimate knowledge of the Chinese way of life and Chinese traditions. While the world that she describes has mostly disappeared from modern China, the story is timeless and still has a very poignant ending applicable to today’s China.

The story is set in the China of the last century, with vivid imagery and a glimpse into the life of the everyday Chinese people. There is not the mystery and intrigue that was often associated with books written by foreigners about the Orient, but instead gives a realistic impression of China and its people. It is the story of the hard-working farmer, Wang Lung, and his struggles to become successful. We see him evolve from a poor farmer to a landowner and businessman. Meanwhile, we see how his success changes him and how his evolution has set his children on a different course in life. The person who remains unchanged by this evolution is his wife, the stoic O-lan, who is always in the background and who is even more hard-working than her husband. While the story mostly focuses on Wang Lung, my favorite character has always been O-lan, who never complains despite their hardships and who always has an answer for how to handle a difficult situation.

I do not want to give away too much of the plot, so I will leave it at that, but I would highly recommend this book. Choose a version that has an introduction or biography about Pearl S. Buck for some additional perspective.