Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
The good earth was published in 1931, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and probably contributed to the author winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. While it can be considered a stand-alone work with its satisfying conclusion, it is the first installment in a trilogy. Set in post-imperial, pre-WWII China, it helped foment poor relations with Japan going into that war.
The book is primarily about the rise and fall of one Wang Lung, his family and fortune. The protagonist begins the book as a hard working farmer who later becomes a rather successful business man as he accumulates more and more land (hence, the good earth theme). Wang Lung loves the land above all other things. That love comes with a price, as all farmers know, in the form of adverse weather, drought and famine. The value that Lung puts on the land in the face of starvation, death and despair represents perhaps the central theme of the book.
I read this book as a youngster when the view and position of China in the world was a great deal different than it is today. I read a review of the book just prior to this reading which blasted the book for its collection of racist stereotypes. On this, Andrew Nathan in Foreign Affairs writes that in his view, Buck delves deeply into the lives of the Chinese poor and opposed "religious fundamentalism, racial prejudice, gender oppression, sexual repression, and discrimination against the disabled." I don’t think that we can criticize a book for telling a story about that way things once were and that seems to be the focus of much of the criticism. Further, I think that the book speaks more to who we are as human beings than the Chinese as a race. Apparently the whole notion of race in China is a new one. Chinese intellectuals translated “race” as “zhong zu” (种族) a combination of the word for “seed” (种 or zhong) and an old Chinese term (族 or zu) used to describe the lineage of patrilineal extended families. What a coincidence that is: a book about the earth where seeds are placed and the male-centric families that tend them. Does that make the book racist? Me thinks not.
Now about that rating. For a book that brought its author the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, it’s hard not to give the book top ratings. Would not less than the highest rating say more about the reviewer than the book? But sometimes we must be bold. Many of us read this book as YAs and, especially because of its simplicity, it fits that billet well. As an adult, however, I look for more layers, depth and complexity in my reads. Not that simple isn’t good. For me too, simple can put a book over the top. This was just not one of them.
I had my doubts about reading this book. I have a hard time with books about WWII Germany. I knew this would probably be a heartbreaker too but for some reason I decided to take it on. Maybe because the book was about books, and I usually like that genre; maybe because the reviews were so good; certainly not because I read it was appropriate for "sophisticated teens and adults." For whatever reason, I am glad I selected The Book Thief. It was incredibly well-written. The characters completely came to life. While there certainly was heart-brake, the heart-warming more than made up for it. This is a book for all ages. The narrator was outstanding and all and all, it was a book I will not soon forget.
“Well, this is a story about books."
“About accursed books, about a man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It's a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind."
“You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel, Daniel."
“That's probably because I work in a bookshop and I've seen too many. But this is a true story.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
My friend who recommended this book to me said that this was not a book for everyone. That rascal, now she tells me after I purchased and started reading it. But that is kind of the thing, isn’t it? As that author says, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” Oh, that’s all wrong here. That’s not why this book is not for everyone.
I liked this book a lot but I do not think that it is perfect. The story reminded me of Kate Morton’s Forgotten Garden. Both books are multifaceted. Both are books about books. Both books contain stories about multiple characters whose lives and stories intersect. Both books are mysteries and gothic in style. The setting for this one is Barcelona, Spain and takes place mostly around the first half of the 20th century. The language, tone and manner of expression is very Spanish. Originally written in Spanish, some have commented that much of the prose might have suffered in translation. While I cannot confirm that and while some of the phrasing did seem a bit clumsy in places, by and large, the prose worked just fine for me. I do think, however, that parts could have benefited from improved editing.
The book is about cruelty and great kindness, romance and heroism. The story’s many aspects of love stood out for me. These were familiar, platonic and intimate in nature. Much of the love is of the unrequited kind and this was the case for many of the characters. Much of the frustration, however, is resolved in the end, one way or another. Probably more ladies than gents are drawn to romantic novels. However, most of the loves in this story are described from the male perspective. Perhaps there is something here that can be gleaned and appreciated by both genders.
The narration in my Audible selection is outstanding but again the production leaves something to be desired. The author wrote the solo piano pieces that pepper the story. I like pepper but too much of the spice can spoil a meal. This was the case in a few places of the story. The music would crescendo and almost drown out the narration. Otherwise, the music was probably a nice touch especially for a book of this kind.
Can I recommend this book to everyone? Probably not but, like my friend, I cannot say exactly why. It kept my attention most of the way through and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well written but I think it was the wonderful narration that made it really good for me.
I've become a sucker for Audible. I love audiobooks, to the point of addiction. Especially a good romance audiobook... :)
This is such a beautiful and IMPORTANT story. This is a superb book and the cast of readers are amazing. I have 2 favorite books, in my life. Now I have another. The Help is unforgettable. I miss Ms Milly and Ms Celie already!!