The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
1931

The first and by far best-known in a trilogy that also includes Sons and A House Divided, Pearl S. Buck’s novel of village life in pre-revolutionary China played a critical role in the development of the west’s relationship with China, and in drawing attention to Japanese imperialism in Asia.

The story of Wang Lung – peasant farmer who adheres strictly to traditional moral codes and becomes a successful landowner – and O-Lan – indentured servant and then Wang Lung’s wife – offered English-speaking readers a glimpse into the cultural, religious, political and economic life of China in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion as lived by a rural family. The book earned Buck a Pulitzer Prize, and was a major factor in her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

Daughter of missionaries and then a literature instructor at two Chinese universities, Buck lived a good half of her life in China and worked through a variety of means to increase western – and particularly American – understanding of the country. Her Nobel reflected the immense impact of her work, but came very early in her career – in the years after winning the prize, she produced over 30 additional novels and over ten books of non-fiction, as well as countless short stories and essays. While remembered for The Good Earth, then, her impact is far wider and far greater than this individual book would suggest.

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