Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Well, and I think that a review of The Good Earth needs to start with a "well, and" and end with a "well, now" because literally every other line of dialogue in this classic starts with one of those phrases. I assume it's a translation thing she was trying to get across, and I assume that she knew what she was talking about because she spent a good chunk of her life in rural China after having been born in West Virginia.
Anyhow, it's a classic, won a bunch of awards in the 30s and is seen as an accurate picture of Chinese rural life by much of the world. I'm not sure about that - it was interesting and it seems feasible she got the setting and customs right - but it was really a bildungsroman. For those who had to Google that, that means a coming-of-age story, but she really takes it into almost allegorical form by making it about all people (and by that she means men) and about all lives. Regrets, success, forgetting, making your mark, fear, the tenuousness of happiness, materialism - all of these are a part of Wang Lung's life.
(Spoiler alert.) He goes from poor farmer to happy poor farmer to farmer-ruined-by-drought to city beggar to extremely lucky draft-dodger to extremely lucky thief to wealthy farmer to wealthy landowner and happy old man. There are plenty of twists and turns in there for him, but that's his arc, and I was struck by how different his life would have been had he not lucked out and not come across a scared old rich guy carrying a lot of money. Buck tries to make it a story of success - poor farmer turns into the rich lord he once groveled before - but I just took the point that some people are lucky and some people are not. His hard work had very little to do with his later success.
And let's not get started on the famous misogyny - his wife and mistresses and daughters barely rate a mention, though his wife is one of the more admirable figures in literature. Maybe that's how Buck chose to make a feminist point - I sincerely hope so.
Well, now I really enjoyed it for the most part, I'm glad I read it.