THE story of The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck is the story of a man, Wang Lung, who begins as a peasant farmer and experiences prosperity and acute poverty before rising to wealth and status.

The book opens on his wedding day; he is to marry a slave from the local great house and he approaches with great humility. His bride, O Lan, displays strength of character and resourcefulness, working alongside Wang Lung during prosperous times and supporting the family in the time of famine.

The Tenby Library Literati Reading Group generally enjoyed this book, admiring the author’s writing style. Pearl S Buck was the daughter of American missionaries who grew up in China, so the style seems to derive from lived experience of Chinese village life. It is very visual, evoking the farming life. The pace of the book is quite stately, suggesting long periods of little change, telling the story of lives uncritically, almost in an emotionally detached manner.

The novel reflects the rigid hierarchical nature of society at this time; respect for elders is profound, even when they do not deserve it. Wang Lung’s uncle is a poisonous character, who has no compunction about extorting support from his nephew; when Wang dares to rebuke him, the uncle threatens to shame him in front of the village for his impertinence. The group all found this somewhat frustrating, as a constraint on the free will the modern reader can take for granted.

This same hierarchical society affects the status of children. Eldest Son’s birth is a matter of great celebration. There is no celebration for the births of daughters; they are termed ‘slave’, regarded as temporary members of the household and thus a burden. Given this, Wang’s affection for his elder daughter, the developmentally challenged ‘little fool’, is exceptional.

Discussion of the book evolved into a discussion on nature, sustainability, environmentalism, and community; there was a lot of modern resonance here. Wealth alone does not bring happiness, if we look after the earth, nourish it, then the earth will provide, and without farmers there is no food.

The group rated it 8.4/10

This book is available for borrowing from libraries in Pembrokeshire; a small reservation fee may be required if it is not at your branch, or if all copies are out on loan.