Some time back I bought this audiobook from the library’s used book sale. Last week I pulled it out and started listening. “The Good Earth” is the story of a humble Chinese farmer named Wang Lung. Wang is the only child of his poor father, and has had a slave woman, O-Lan, chosen to be his wife. The story begins on his wedding day. Life is hard for the young newlyweds, but they are both hard workers, and their labor together in the fields yields profitable crops. Children are born to them, and life is good.
But as usually happens, good seasons are interspersed with times of trial. Wang and O-Lan suffer through droughts, flooding and a locust plague. At one point, they are a whisper away from starvation, as is everyone in the community. But they manage to survive and rebuild their farm.
I truly enjoyed the first part of this novel. I admired Wang’s love for the land, and his devotion to his aged father and his wife. I loved O-Lan, her loyalty to her husband and children, and her untiring work to make their little sod house a good home. But as Wang left poverty behind and became wealthy, he became a different man. He was mostly concerned with being numbered among the rich, buying more land, and having the women he wanted. As the years went by, his sons became arrogant and like their father. By the end of the book, I despised both Wang and his sons.
The author grew up in China, and lived there about half of her life, so it is natural that she would use it as the setting for her books. But it seems to me that stories such as these portray the country of China in a very undesirable light. The story includes infanticide, prostitution, incest, concubines, mob relatives, and opium addiction, while making it sound as if it was all perfectly normal. Were these things really that acceptable in Chinese culture? I sincerely hope not. I finished the book, but was sickened by the depressing ending. Despite this book being given the prestigious Pulitzer Prize For The Novel award in 1932, I cannot recommend this book.