I remember vividly the book that had adorned our old bookshelf in my childhood home. [I am not sure if the book was lost when we moved into a larger house]. Those years I was least interested in reading when the shelves were over flowing with volumes of excellent literary works.
I believed it was meant for the likes of Literature honors students and hence I had looked at them with disdain. My preference was Daphne du Maurier- Rebecca, Jane Austen’s all time favorites, Marie Corelli’s Thelma, Holmes and later I it was Rhett Butler of ‘Gone with the Wind’ who caught my fancy. The Atlas Shrugged, Foutainhead took some space on the bookshelf at some time and I thought I had consumed enough for a lifetime. Then there was the age of Wodehouse, Fleming, Agatha Christie, Grism, Archer and several others.
Coming of age has been delayed for me.
Recently diversions from the small screen, forced me to pick up several books, of which Naseem Rakha’s ‘The Crying Tree’ and Jodi Picoult’s – My Sister’s Keeper were memorable in its newness in theme.
Restless, I picked up The Good Earth. Uninspired by the cover…but yet I looked at it closely. Of course, I remembered it from the old shelf. Pearl S Buck. The name was always something that the elders in my household spoke with reverence.
The Pulitzer award winning part, I noticed now. Nobel prize winner, I remembered. But wondered…why?
I had two more books towed… just in case I would sleep off reading the first few pages.
But I did not anticipate what feelings I would be left with. I have never been floored by such simple style, such subtle study of human lives and paths that cross the farmer’s life. The narrative was overwhelming- it stole my heart completely.
It has to do with the sensitive portrayal of the early 1900’s, the history of China, as seen by common folk, how they swam through periods of famine; it stages a show of actors who simply lived their lives to survive; life’s significance came from simple elements, but the slow movement of men power, economic growth and money’s impact on lives of people, the greed that took over their simple thinking is what I thought was evident even as I was growing up. It shadows what we can see in any other family even in our neighborhood, where money starts to flow in.
It is story one can relate with, in our own world today. But simplicity of China in that period has been explored so cleverly making it a visual experience for a reader. Wonder how, and how much the world has changed since then! And that applies to China as a country too.
I also credit Pearl that she could understand and interpret human psychology with such astuteness and with such an intelligent assessment.
Reading The Good Earth, exploded many deep seeded prejudices and it was an experience that I would love to revisit sometime soon. For many of you it could simply mean dusting a copy from the bottom shelf of your collection, tucked away into oblivion. For others it could be a prized collection.
You will enjoy the book if you will let yourself slip into a different time zone, and visualise the period drama as it emerges…