Pearl S. Buck (born on 26 June 1892) was an American writer and novelist.
Her novel “The Good Earth”, published in 1931, immediately became a bestseller in the United States and earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
In 1938, Buck became the fourth female and first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”. (*)
“The Good Earth” highlights the life of Chinese peasants in the early 20th century, a life that Buck had known because she had grown up in China, where her parents were missionaries.
The novel follows Wang Lung from his beginnings as a poor peasant to his eventual position as a rich landowner. Even though material prosperity allows him to enjoy the pleasures his wealth can buy, it is only his land that can provide peace and security.
He has always been aided by his hardworking and self-sacrificing wife, O-Lan, considered an ugly woman (1), who shares his devotion to the land and to duty.
At the end of the novel, Wang Lung overhears his sons planning to sell the land as soon as he dies, and tries to dissuade them (2). Although they assure him they will not, they smile over his head, silently amused at their own deception.
(1) When Wang Lang’s marital life is to begin, his father tells him:
“And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must have a woman who will tend the house and bear children as she works in the fields and will a pretty woman do these things? She will be forever thinking about clothes to go with her face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We are farmers… It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty.”
(2) Wang Lung ‘s final speech, when he pleads with his sons not to sell his land:
“No—no—we will never sell the land! . . . It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land . . . Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land…If you sell the land, it is the end.”
(3) Another quote I like is:
“Now, five years is nothing in a man’s life except when he is very young and very old…”
(*) Female Nobel laureates for literature before Pearl Buck:
1. 1909 – Selma Lagerlöf (Sweden)
2. 1926 – Grazia Deledda (Italy)
3. 1928 – Sigrid Undset (Norway)
(1) “E cosa ce ne faremo di una bella donna? Dobbiamo avere una donna che si occuperà della casa e partorirà mentre lavora nei campi e una donna carina farà queste cose? Penserà per sempre ai vestiti da abbinare al suo viso! No, non una bella donna a casa nostra. Siamo agricoltori … Meglio arrivare primi con una donna brutta, che centesimi con una bella”
(2) “No, no, non venderemo mai la terra! . . . È la fine di una famiglia, quando si inizia a vendere la terra. . . Dalla terra siamo venuti, e alla terra dobbiamo tornare… – e se conserverete la terra potrete vivere – nessuno potrà mai portarvela via. . . Se vendete la terra, è la fine.”
(3)“Ora, cinque anni non sono nulla nella vita di un uomo, se non quando è molto giovane e molto vecchio”