Author: Pearl S. Buck
Published By: Moyer Bell Limited
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I read The Good Earth, my reasoning was two-fold. For one thing, I still have that desire to read all of the classics I never was assigned to read in school. I also wanted to complete something I had started years ago, having read the opening chapter of the book, but never completing it in my youth. As I read the novel, I became thoroughly invested in the characters’ outcome and was loathe to put the book down until it was finished. When it was done, I wanted more and, thankfully, I learned that The Good Earth was actually the first novel in a trilogy. I set out to find the rest of the books and just recently acquired the second novel in the set, Sons.
Sons picks up where The Good Earth left off. Wang Lung is now at the end of his long life. After his death, his three sons must decide what to do with their inheritance. Left with some money and a large amount of prosperous land, the sons set about dividing the House of Wang’s assets. The eldest son becomes Wang the Landlord, never tilling the land as his father had, but happy to reap the rewards of the land through the hard work of his tenants. The second son, Wang the Merchant, becomes rich off of the most prosperous portions of land, selling when he must, but always investing wisely. But the third son wants nothing to do with his father’s land. Wang the Tiger left for the army years ago, refusing to become a farmer like his father and his father before him. Wang the Tiger wants his assets liquidated so as to build an army and become a great warlord.
As events in the second novel unfold, the story centers mainly on Wang the Tiger and his efforts to rise up as a great military leader. He is extremely successful in his endeavors thanks to the help of trusted allies and the financial aid of his brothers. As Wang the Tiger becomes more and more successful, he realizes that there is only one more thing he needs: a son to leave it all to. He eventually gets his wish and begins training his son in the art of war, planning on amassing a great army and sizeable property to leave to his son once he is ready. Unfortunately, Wang the Tiger’s son has less of his father in him than his grandfather. Could it be that Wang Lung’s love of the land skipped a generation and was reborn in a warlord’s son?
Having become thoroughly invested in the characters from the original book and their ups and downs, I was at once angry with the sons of Wang Lung and their ignorance. Wang Lung may not have always done things right, but he lived by the land and died by it, knowing how important it had always been to his existence and all those who lived before him. As a farmer, nothing was more important to Wang Lung than amassing a great deal of well-cultivated land that he could leave to his sons. So, when the sons show such disdain for what their father left them and begin to sell off the land little by little, I became incensed. Every time they sold a little more of the land or complained about owning it and the amount of work that went into being a landlord, I thought back to the days when Wang and his wife toiled in the fields hoping for fair weather and a good crop. All that hard work squandered by the very sons Wang Lung had raised.
I enjoyed the way the book read like a Chinese legend and applaud Pearl S. Buck’s writing style. At first, I was not very fond of Wang the Tiger, but his character grew on me and I had great hopes for him. Unfortunately, some of my hopes never came to fruition as Wang the Tiger was haunted by his past and allowed it to steer him away from any semblance of happiness. His life takes an ironic turn at the end of this novel and one can’t help but nod knowingly at the outcome.
I love historical fiction and thus, The Good Earth and Sons were bound to be enjoyable. The Good Earth deals with events that take place before, during and after the Boxer Rebellion. In Sons, the country no longer has a ruling emperor and change is coming. As events in the novel move forward, revolution takes place. War lords rise up all over the place and war erupts between the north and the south on numerous occasions. Tradition takes a huge hit with men and women attending a new school of thought. As Westernization takes hold, young men and women begin to abandon the old ways in favor of more independence, shunning things like arranged marriages and other familial customs now deemed archaic. Towards the end of the novel, we learn a new rebellion has arisen - quite possibly the Mao Zedong years.
Reading about these historical occurrences can be quite illuminating, but reading them as they take place around fictional characters can some times be much more educational. We see the history of China unfold through the eyes of characters we have come to relate to and thus can take in the emotional, cultural and political significance of it all.
Sons was an excellent read, fast-moving and just as enjoyable as the first novel in the series. I can’t wait to get my hands on A House Divided and read the final chapter in the Wang family’s story.