[ 1 minutes to read ]
The only thing I knew about this book and author before reading it, was the extreme likelihood of one or both being featured in any sort of West Virginia history or trivia. I suppose Buck is the most famous author from West Virginia. Though she was born here, she grew up in China.
The book tells the story of the adult life of the fictional Wang Lung, a rural farmer in China. Farming in rural China a century ago is merely the setting, not what the book is about. The book is about the human condition and life on Earth. The story is gripping, though at times plodding, kind of like the life of a farmer.
Buck is an excellent story teller and I’m sure she paced her novel deliberately. She reminded me some of Jane Austen in how adeptly she sketched out character before the reader without having to tell us their character was good or bad. Wang Lung had his own moral code shown in the deference he paid his father and his scoundrel uncle, the chastising of his young son for stealing food, though they were nearly starving, and the way he worked, etc. She also deftly portrayed his pride as being the center of his morals. Even though he was poor, he would not steal. This was not because he thought of the act as wrong, per se, but rather the act was beneath him. He might have been poor, but he was not as low as a thief.
Buck also captured the nature of temptation and yielding, when he committed theft and that theft was what changed the course of his family life for material prosperity but also further moral degradation. His love for the land was his constant, and true religion. He never wavered in his faithfulness to his land. Though by the end of his life he was content with the peace he desperately wanted, I consider his arc to be more tragic than redemptive.
It’s a good story from a good writer.