Review: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth snagged the Pulitzer in 1932, one year after it was published. While the win is well deserved (the novel is impossible to put down), The Good Earth is lacking in places. I’m stating up front that I’m rating it 4.5 (out of 5), because some of this review will sound harsh.

I procrastinated with this review, because I was at a loss to describe how I ever became so invested in such flat characters whose struggles were portrayed via bland language. Perhaps Buck stumbled into a foolproof story that could not be derailed by errors in execution. “Errors” is a strong word. The writing is clear (if repetitive), and the characters are compelling (if cardboard). Note: you do not need a prior understanding of Chinese history (though it couldn’t hurt) as the novel provides ample context to understand differences between urban and rural areas in China. There are no clear dates for the novel’s events, but it’s assumed that the uprising in the South is the 1911 Revolution in Shanghai. read more