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Customer Review

46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good serious novel, October 20, 2004
This review is from: The Good Earth (Enriched Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
I was reluctant to start the book which, tagged with the label of classic, seemed destined to be depressing. And you know what? It was depressing. But it was also good.

It traces the life of a Chinese farmer named Wang Lung from the day of his wedding to a faithful slave named Olan until his last days on earth. In the beginning of the book, Wang Lung is a hard working farmer, but poor and subject to the hardships that complete dependence on the land brings. His wife O-lan brings about a small measure of prosperity, as she joins him as a partner in the prospect of improving their finances through hard work. They are even able to buy a new piece of land from the great House of Hwang, where Olan lived as a slave throughout her maidenhood.

After they have their third child, a drought-induced famine strikes, driving Wang-Lung from the land which he loves and into the city in search of food. O-lan and the children and Wang Lung's father beg in the streets, while Wang Lung works carrying a ricksha. The life they live is hard, and they are barely able to subsist, living in a hut they have built of mats (following the example of the other poor).

War and rioting break out in the city, and Wang Lung is carried into a rich man's house by a throng of looters. By chance, he finds himself alone in a room with a rich man who is terrified for his life, and he extorts a large amount of gold from him before sending him away. At the same time, his wife has found a loose brick behind which is a store of jewels worth a fortune. They return back to the farming land of the north, and use the money to buy more land and sow the seeds of a farming empire.

The second half of the book deals with the troubles that beset Wang Lung as a rich man, and these are less compelling than his battles against starvation.

The book held my interest, and is most useful as a look into the social strata that made up China in the early 1900s. Themes that run throughout the book are the mistreatment of women without thought, the differences that money makes in social standing, and the corrupting influence of a life of ease.
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