I rarely reread a book, but there’s something about The Good Earth that gives me literary cravings. I just reread it for the fifth time in order to relive the magical world of rural pre-WWI China. I know “magical” would be the last adjective anyone would use to describe the poverty and struggle described in the book, but every time I read it, I feel as mystified as if I were reading a fantasy—a genre I associate with losing myself in another world with powers unlike those you’d find in reality.
So, how does she create this beguiling effect in a realistic book?
I’d like to attribute my mystification about the setting and characters to that fact that the world is so completely different from my own. It’s no easy feat trying to find similarities between 2015’s Los Angeles and rural China in the early 1900’s. However, there are plenty of books written on different times and places which I can barely slog through. This book is a classic for a reason, and I attribute it mostly to the way Buck makes magic out of realism. Not magical realism, every part of the book is taken from history, but she describes China using the same approach a fantasy writer would use to describe an unknown world. She mixes nature and earth with the interactions of humans, illustrating the soil and land in ways that makes it feel like it isn’t the same Earth I inhabit. The way Wang Lung appreciates the land, touches it, worships it, brings to mind a sacred connection. When Wang Lung loses his bond with the earth, we see his fall, much the same as if he were losing a supernatural power. And isn’t he?
It’s not often that I’m reminded about the enchantment of reality, and when an author can teach me this, I have a better appreciation for it. After reading this novel, I want to dig my hands into the dirt and plant seeds in order to experience the creation of life from dust. And believe me, I’m no farmer. I only want a piece of the good earth’s power as described by Pearl S. Buck.
Can you think of any other books that highlight the magic of our world?