Length: 296 pages
Setting: the village of Anhwei in the countryside of China, 1890s-1930s
Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winning book.
Summary: We follow the adult life of Wang Lung, a peasant farmer in China. He marries O-Lan, a slave from the House of Hwang in town. With her help, Wang is able to acquire land from Hwang and prosper. One famine year, he takes his family south to avoid starvation. He comes back to his land after acquiring gold with the poor ransack the rich man’s house near his shack. He acquires more land and wealth due to his prudence and caution during famine years. Eventually, he takes a second wife, Lotus, and builds her an addition to the house. His sons are scholars and he becomes the rich man in town, even moving into the House of Hwang. Sadly, he cannot find peace in his old age, as his sons and sons’ wives. He moves away from the land as well.
Final thoughts: This book is a classic for a reason. I happen to love stories that show what it took to live and provide food for yourself before you could just go to the store, and this was just such a story. I found Buck’s writing style to be completely engaging and I was sucked into Wang’s life from the first chapter.
There were a couple of elements of the story that stood out to me. For one thing, women and girls were treated and referred to as slaves. Wang was excited to get married because then he wouldn’t have to get up in the morning to start the fire and heat the water. The ideal woman was tiny (and poor O-Lan was a great helper to Wang, but not at all conventionally pretty).
The other interesting element was the importance of the land. Want intuitively understood that fact and was most successful when he focused on the land. We saw the House of Hwang failing because they moved into the town and stopped caring about where their money came from. Sadly, we could see the beginning of a downward spiral for Wang’s family as well, as the sons were scholars instead of farmers.
Title comes from: Wang’s love of the land.
Awards won: Pulitzer Prize in 1932
Reading challenges fulfilled: 16/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a B in the Alphabet Soup Author Challenge, 2/12 Pulitzer Prize winners for Check Off Your Reading List, and a book set in Asia for my Global Reading Challenge
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