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Archive for the ‘Modern Classic’ Category

This book tells the sweeping story of lowly farmer, Wang Lung, and the many changes he and his family experience in rural China during another era. The story opens as Wang Lung prepares to fetch a slave to marry from the house of the wealthiest family in town. Although this woman, O-Lan, is not much more than a slave in Wang Lung’s house, she dutifully and faithfully, serves her new husband in the house, and by his side out in the fields. After the birth of two sons and a time of good harvest and frugal living, a daughter’s birth signals a change in fortune for the family. Drought causes the family to flee to a large city in order to survive. After a time of living in urban poverty, a lucky turn of events, which O-Lan makes the most of, provides the means and opportunity for Wang Lung to take his family back home, back to his land. Good fortune once again smiles on the family. Wang Lung wisely invests in increasing his land and as his land grows, so does his fortune. He becomes so successful as a farmer, in fact, that he becomes too busy to do any farming, and must delegate work to paid laborers and staff. Ironically, as his fortune grows, so do his domestic troubles. He is no longer satisfied with his meek and selfless wife and takes on another, who is beautiful but useless. His sons, whom he has educated, are not satisfied with living and working on the land and want to move to town. His uncle, not interested in working himself, is demanding to be supported out of the riches Wang Lung has amassed through his own hard labor. It seems that the more that Wang Lung earns, the less peace he has at home. He begins to long for the simple life of his youth, eventually moving back to his old farmhouse in his old age.

I found this story, set in China over 100 years ago, to be completely relevant to our lives today. The irony of working so hard to be financially successful, only to realize the high price that is paid for that success, is such a contemporary theme, that I found it fascinating to realize that this story is so universal. In our current time and place, so many of us have experienced this to some degree. Our efforts to forge a better, easier life often result in a disconnect, in some way. The wistful longing for a simpler time that Wang Lung feels toward the end of his life is something that I think will hit home with many readers.

The Good Earth is a bit slow moving at times, but well worth sticking with. Some characters are very likable and sympathetic, others, not so much. One thing is true, though. There is someone in this story that nearly everyone will recognize.

I give this book 4 1/2 bookmarks.

Reviewed by: Anna

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After finishing this book, I am amazed that I was never required to read it for school. I found this book to be poignant and beautifully, yet simply written. The similarities between the main character in this book, Francie Nolan, and the author of the last book I reviewed, Jeannette Walls, of The Glass Castle, reiterate to me the lives these women experienced are more common than one might think.

We watch Francie as she travels the terrain of her childhood and adolescence in her beloved Brooklyn, which she describes as dreamlike and different from any other place in the world. The simple prose used by Betty Smith in this book evoked such an emotional response from me as I read about Francie and her family and their life of poverty and hardship and love and joy. The gradual awakening of Francie to her true lot in life and her continued optimism in the face of that lot, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. I found the descriptions in this book of a girl who gradually learns the truth about life and the people in her life to be honest and true, heartbreaking, beautiful and re-affirming, all at the same time. Yet again, here is a book in which the main character could easily have given in and been crushed under the weight of what she had been dealt by society and birth, but didn’t. Francie should be a shining light in the darkness for all of us who experience hardship.

Francie is told by her English teacher to write about beauty. When asked by Francie, what is beauty, the teacher offers her a quote from Keats, “Beauty is truth, truth is beauty.” This book is filled with both. I highly recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with its simple and beautiful and true message about the power of family, love and hope.

I give this book 5 out of 5 bookmarks.

Reviewed by: Anna

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