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An insightful adventure...
on April 9, 2003
I would say that this book could certainly stand alone simply because there was so much happening in this turbulent setting of the revolution. In many ways "A House Divided" was my favorite of the "House of Earth" trilogy, (still, The Good Earth was beautiful!) because it was an adventure that spanned the globe. Yet there was no lack in telling how the main character evolved emotionally and intellectually from the first page to the last.
Many times throughout the book, Pearl Buck successfully showed how Yuan's world was filled with black and white; no grey. For example, a person was expected to be 100% revolutionary, or a 100% traditionalist. Or one had to be 100% Chinese, or 100% foreign. Yuan was a very conflicted man from the start and struggled with these issues pretty much until the end. To me that was the most intriguing part.
I was fascinated with Yuan's six-year stay in America. He experienced racism first-hand, the confusion of living in another country, trying to assimilate, seeing and appreciating the beauty of the country and the friendliness and openness of some of its people, the freedom to pursue one's happiness and potential, but clearly his own traditions and culture prevented him from fully accepting the foreigners into his heart.
I think the author gave some real insight into the minds of people living during the revolution. Many people, like Yuan's cousin, Meng, were fevently passionate about it. It was clear that it took a certain kind of person, with a linear, unwavering focus in order to hasten a violent change. In this case, that meant one had to be filled with anger and hatred.
Also through Yuan, we were exposed to the hypocrisy of the revolution as well. While the ideology spoke for the common people, the revolutionists were frustrated and repulsed by the common people's ways of life, such as they were for centuries. Eventually, many gave up on the older generation, and focused on the youth of the poor, because they were more easily influenced. Of course, it touched on the fact that no one was permitted to question this new state. Those who followed the cause were expected to accept it blindly.
In keeping with his torn mental state, Yuan's hesitation to decide where he stood in terms of the cause was understandable. His experience gave him first-hand knowledge of how frustrating it was to live under the old filial rules, yet he'd also witnessed the softer moments with his father, and others who represented the old world. He at least was mature enough to realize that people were deeply complicated, which made it impossible for him to truly believe that "rich people are evil, poor people are good." At the same time, as much as he loved the land, and found peace of mind working among the common people, he was at times, disgusted by their surroundings, their "odor" permeating his space no matter where he went.
Pearl Buck eloquently described the same black and white issues of the heart in Yuan. Time and time again, he wished to be emotionally open, yet didn't dare. Yuan was repulsed by the display of free behavior of the new generation of China and the young Americans. Again, his reaction to the American women who danced with his cousin Sheng was an interesting glimpse into his perception of himself. Although Yuan hated the white women who ignored or rejected Sheng because he was Chinese, he had no respect for the white women who did dance with Sheng. And he felt ashamed for Sheng for "lowering his standards" to such women.
Yes, perhaps the end was unrealistic, but as a hopeless romantic American, I can appreciate it. However, one can see the huge circle this book fills out with the trilogy. Yuan is ultimately the one who understands and respects his grandfather's efforts with the land, back in the first novel. Yuan is the one who finally repairs the ties to his father and ends the cycle of broken relationships. The trilogy ends as his father, the Tiger, spends his final days in the earthen house where he was born.
When I read certain books, I sometimes imagine what they would be like on film, and I think it would be fantastic to see it done with the entire "House of Earth" trilogy. But then again, is it even possible to make a film that would do this epic justice?