The Good Earth

CLJ Reviews The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

What We Read

The Good Earth was published in 1931 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. Generally regarded as a classic, I chose the book for two reasons: 1.) It’s my mom’s favourite book and I promised her we would read it for Book Club, and 2.) Yann Martel – out of all the books he could have recommended to us in his letter to the CLJ – recommended this one (which of course led to numerous claims of “I told you so!” by my mother). Turns out, it really was a great book suggestion. The Good Earth tells the story of a simple, farm family living in pre-revolutionary China who encounter many trials and tribulations throughout the course of the protagonist, Wang Lung’s, life. Facing not just drought, pestilence, and floods, Wang Lung must learn to grapple with conflict within his family, and his own feelings of lust, greed and entitlement.

What We Did (and How We Did It)

One of the major themes within the novel is the importance of being connected to the Earth – when Wang Lung leaves his land, hurt and despair seem to follow closely behind. Within the novel, the cultural belief that various Gods are responsible for the fortunes or misfortunes of the family is also evident. Tying these two themes together, the activity asked CLJ members to spend some time planting seeds of their choices into small pots. They were then asked to take on the persona of a character in the novel and pray to the Gods for their seeds to grow and flourish –with the best depiction of character and plea to the Gods, our newest CLJ member Alison Atkinson took home the trophy.

What We Thought

The group talked a lot about the relevance and appropriateness of a privileged American woman telling this story from the perspective of a Chinese peasant. Given the year of publication and popularity of the novel in America (and around the world), we also talked a lot about this book’s probable impact on how many Americans viewed China, as this book was arguably one of the earliest and most realistic depictions of Chinese life that many Americans would have been exposed to. The underlying themes of greed, the social order, and the treatment of women were also explored. Most members of the CLJ thoroughly enjoyed the book – or at the very least, appreciated the opportunity to read a thought-provoking piece of literature they otherwise would not have read.

As told by Michelle Burtnyk-Horn

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