Tag: historical ficiton

Feb 04

Mo Money, Mo Problems: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Asia, Classics, Family, Historical Fiction, Pretentious, Women's Studies 36

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

This weekend I took a trip to China… Sort of. Remember way back when I started this blog I read a novel loosely based on the life of Pearl S. Buck? No? Allow me to refresh your memory. After reading Pearl of China by Anchee Min, I was inspired to read me some Pearl S. Buck.

The Good Earth (in conjunction with some of Buck’s other work) won a friggin Nobel Prize, so there must be something to it, right? I must admit, I’m not always a huge fan of full on high brow literary fiction, and the fact that this had won a Nobel Prize made me a wee bit nervous. It frustrates me when a novel has spectacular language but lacks the umph of killer storytelling. I like a good story. If I only wanted pretty language, I’d read more poetry. I am every literary critic’s nightmare. And yet I continue blathering all over the internet. Muahahahahaha!

the good earth

Back to the book. Wang Lung is a poor peasant farmer whose only option for marriage is a slave from an opulent household. Chinese culture is beautiful in many ways, but it’s downright hideous when it comes to the treatment women. I’ve discussed foot binding a bit in the past, when I reviewed Snow Flower and the Secret Fanand it plays into this book as well. Wang Lung’s bride, the slave girl O-Lan does NOT have her feet bound. Why would she? She wasn’t a lady of means and leisure, she was a woman required to work long, hard hours. Hard to spend a day on your feet when your feet have been broken and are weird little 3 inch stumps, yo.

Fortunately, O-Lan is a sturdy woman used to hard work. She helps Wang Lung with the farm work and does all her wifely chores. She also produces SONS. That’s a HUGE deal because the sons in China stayed with their families. Girls, once they’re married, are taken into their husbands’ families. The prevailing opinion at this time in China was that girls are an expensive burden. If a family found itself in abject poverty, sometimes they’d sell off a daughter to get by. Full on slavery.  That’s how O-Lan ended up in her position. Moral of the story #1: It blows HARD to be a lady in China.

Wang Lung and O-lan have some good times on the farm. It’s prosperous and they have sons. What more could they want? You know what more they could want? Food. A year of terrible weather renders growing food impossible. The whole village starves. Some sell their daughters. Some raid their neighbors’ food stores. Some resort to cannibalism. Some just wither away and die. Wang Lung’s family is little more than skin and bones when they decide to leave their beloved land and head south. Moral of the story #2: Famine is a bitch.

When they reach the south, the family finds a charity kitchen that will feed them, so their most pressing problem is solved. Eventually, Wang Lung gets a hankering to get back to his land, but since they’ve been making their living by begging and pulling a rickshaw, they’re not in a position to buy train fare. Thank goodness for political unrest. When the city they’re squatting in gives over to riot, Wang Lung and O-lan get lucky in a mob raid. Wang Lung manages to frighten a rich man into giving him a purse full of gold, and O-lan absconds with a sack of jewels.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

image courtesy of Wikipedia

Moral of the story #3: “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” (Yep. I just referenced the Notorious B.I.G. in a post about Nobel Prize winning literature. I am just that awesome.) Wang Lung and O-Lan were at the mercy of the elements as farmers, it’s true. But add some money to the mix and life gets awfully complicated. Not much is expected of peasant farmers, but there’s a whole different set of rules for wealthy landowners. The remainder of the book follows the family’s journey through the complex world of Chinese social climbing.

As I said earlier, I dug this book. It’s said that Buck’s fiction was among the first to resonate with both Chinese and western audiences because although Buck was an American, she lived in China for much of her early life. She wrote about Chinese society in a way that no western writer ever had, because she understood the Chinese way of life from a native’s perspective. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about China and Chinese immigrants to the US, but this felt super authentic. Like… Taco Bell vs. authentic Mexican food. I love me some nachos supreme, but I know what’s authentic and what isn’t, you know? Even the language in which its written is very matter of fact. It’s not flowery. It doesn’t go into detail about feelings, but you feel them anyway. That’s probably part of the reason Buck’s work has stood the test of time. Awesomeness, honesty, and authenticity. Let’s give Pearl a little slow clap, shall we?

So, Bookworms. Some food for thought. If you won the lottery tomorrow, how do you think your life would change?

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Jan 03

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana FREAKING Gabaldon!

Historical Fiction, Romance, Supernatural, World War II 18

Have I not sufficiently expressed my adoration for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series?! Because OMG I love it so much. My Aunt told my mom that she absolutely had to read these books (Hi Margie!) I borrowed the books from my mom. They are super awesome. Anyways, Diana Gabaldon recently published a novella explaining the mysteries surrounding the demise of Roger’s parents. If you’re not already familiar with this series, this review is going to sound completely insane and screwy. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. This series is addictive, brilliant, and wonderful. Otherwise I wouldn’t have read this little tidbit of side story novella. Oh, this review is super full of spoilers because I cannot keep my mouth shut. Sorry.

The Outlander Series has been Certified Awesome by me.

The Outlander Series has been Certified Awesome by me.

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows tells this story. As you may recall, the story of Roger’s parents is that his father was killed while flying a mission in WWII and his mother was killed trying to protect him from a bomb raid in a London tube station. It was alluded to that the story wasn’t quite so cut and dried, so I was really curious as to what might have happened.

Roger inherited the time travel gene (I guess we can call it a gene, right? I mean, it’s a family tradition basically) because of his long twisty relation to the crazy witchy lady from book 1. She wasn’t a witch in any sense of the word, REALLY. She just happened to come from the future and the story suggests she contracted syphilis and went off her damn rocker in some of the later novels. I’d buy that. She was a free love type from the 60s, but she had no penicillin because she went back in time. No prophalactics either, but I digress.

allhallows

We start off meeting the famous Jeremiah (who goes by Jerry, which is funny because Roger’s kid who is named for his dad goes by Jemmy, and for some reason even with all the names and nicknames floating around in these books there isn’t a single Jim or Jimmy. That amuses me, because our family has 5…) Jerry meets an MI6 agent, who, regrettably, isn’t James Bond. He’s Captain Frank Randall! Yes! Claire’s first husband! Oh the twisted web we weave! Anyway, Jerry apparently has picked up some conversational Polish and is commissioned to fly over Nazi concentration camps in Poland to get pictures. They’re hoping his smattering of Polish will keep him from getting killed if he crashes and needs to get out of the country, but he’s as good as told it’s going to be a suicide mission. He gets a trip home to visit with his wife and young son, Roger.

He goes back to the base camp thingie where they keep the planes and stuff and is sent out on a practice mission- flying over Northumbria. Right. So major premise of these books is that the standing stone circles that dot northern England and Scotland mark places of power- where people with the right genetic code sometimes accidentally slip through time 200 years one direction or the other. When they locate the wreckage of Jerry’s plane, there’s no body inside… BECAUSE HE’S BEEN SUCKED BACK IN TIME!!!!!! Dun dun dun!

Anyway, at some point he runs into his own grown up son and his random ancestor who are also traipsing through time and Roger helps his dad get home (some two years after he left.) Jerry slips back through time, makes it back to London, and my some weird cosmic twist of fate, into the tube tunnel where Marjorie and Roger are hiding from the bombs. They’re hit and in a moment of recognition, Marjorie passes Roger off to Jerry as she’s being blown up or smushed or whatever. Then Jerry falls on the tracks and cracks his head open. So they’re both still dead, but they BOTH had a hand in saving Roger.

Yeah. So. I wasn’t totally thrilled by this little bit of book. I mean, I love the characters I love the story… It just wasn’t a very strong piece. I’d hoped that there would be something more juicy, perhaps that Jerry was waiting to meet Roger back in time and have significant interaction, or he’d secreted Marjorie away from danger somehow, but no. Jerry just sort of took a time travel vacation and then died. Woops. I guess I can’t fault Gabaldon, she’s already got approximately 8 zillion characters and storylines she’s got to keep afloat. I’m just jonesing for the new book so badly that this didn’t satisfy the itch.

So, Bookworms. Any Outlander fans out there? How stoked are we for the supposed 2013 release of Written In My Heart’s Own Blood?!

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