I loved ‘The Good Earth,’ when I was a kid. For some reason I never really pursued her other novels – one of those ‘always meant to, but never got around to it’ things.
So – I was quite excited to get this from Goodreads’ First Reads program. (Thank You!)
Unfortunately, this is not a good book.
The introduction (written by Buck’s son and literary executor) makes it clear that he’s aware of that. I got that feeling that,after having paid to retrieve the manuscript, which was apparently stolen from the dying Buck’s bedside, or something, it was going to be published no matter what. And after all, she is a famous, Nobel-Prize-winning author, and it’s good to have it available for literary completeness.
Reading this book is like listening to a well-meaning, good-hearted, but hopelessly behind-the-times elderly person ramble on. Although it was probably written in the early 1970’s (Buck passed away in 1973), the ‘feeling’ and concerns of the book are more what I’d think of as coming from the 1940’s. And – it really lacks plot structure.
It’s the story of Randolph – or “Rann,” who’s a child prodigy/genius. But – his supposed genius IQ doesn’t really inform the story in any way, which is odd. A huge chunk of the beginning of the book is devoted to his being in the womb, and being an infant – which, I suppose, gives us an insight into Pearl Buck’s ideas about child development, but is extremely boring.
We move on, following Rann through life.
At an early age, his father dies, leaving him with a tragic background.
He gets molested by one of his professors, which is an opportunity for Buck to give us her rather peculiar ideas about gay people. (The ideas in this section are strikingly outdated to any modern reader).
Then he moves on to have a relationship where he gets taken advantage of by a wealthy older widow.
Then he moves on, and falls in love with a young half-Chinese woman. Buck was a huge activist for the rights of mixed-race individuals, but again, her efforts here to describe the plight of this woman and others like her is: first – overblown to a nuclear degree, and second – again, feels way out of touch with the decade that she was writing in. The events of the story don’t really work, either in the way that I suspect she intended them to, or in any other way.
Then, the book ends, just sort of randomly, leaving the reader with the feeling of having been presented with a string of unrelated events, rather than a crafted story.
I’ll really have to read something else by Buck.