2007: 83. The Good Earth

“It was Wang Lung’s marriage day.  At first, opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his bed, he could not think why the dawn seemed different from any other.”

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck*

I can’t make up my mind about The Good Earth.  It is the story of a peasant family in China in the first part of the twentieth century (I think - dates are not given, and the book doesn’t really reference much of what is going on outside the village).  Buck won the Nobel Prize, largely for this book.  It was hailed as being one of the first books by a Westerner (Buck grew up in China and lived a good chunk of her adult life there), to treat the Chinese people, especially the peasant class, with dignity and respect, instead of as the yellow peril.  I can certainly see that it is an improvement in that respect.  Also, Buck is a good descriptive writer - she makes you see what the lives of these people were like, good and bad.

BUT, she also writes in this extremely simplistic style, as if her characters were not capable of having complex thought.   She may respect her characters, but they don’t seem like regular people, like you or me.  They are still exotic in their simple, less developed thought. It is as if she appreciated that the peasants were human beings, but not that they were smart, capable human beings with complex human emotion.  There is a lot of “Wife” and “Son” and no a lot of normal conversation.  Maybe the lives of the Chinese peasants were so different from mine that they actually thought differently, but I suspect, deep down, people aren’t that different in how they think, and it seems racist, too (if in a more benevolent way) to simply these people and objectify them so.  I don’t know - it made me uncomfortable in the way that the Number One Ladies Detective Agency Books sometimes do.  Again, because it is a white person writing about these simple “foreigners.”  Maybe I need to read some Chinua Achebe, or something, to clean my palate on this point.

* Why is it always with the S? Was there a famous Pearl Q. Buck writing at the same time, now lost to history?

Recommended for:  People interested in pre-revolution China; people who want to consider the point made by Edward Said in Orientalism.

Date/Place Completed: 6/12/07; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017