Never have I had such a vivid glimpse into a non-European culture. Ever. This book is hard to take in, and I should have read more slowly, in order to digest it better. I couldn’t put it down, though.
There isn’t much of a traditional “plot,” and this is the first book like this that I have felt moved by. Moved deeply, in fact. So deeply, I struggle to put it into words. It was hard to relate to in many ways, because I come from such a vastly different culture, and I find myself wondering how in the world the Chinese lived the way they did at the time. (I am ignorant of how different things are today, so I won’t try to compare.) And how in the world I grew up knowing so little…
What a vivid portrayal of the life of one man and his family. Some things that moved me:
1) That when a girl was born, they would say that “only a slave was born to me.”
2) His sons were not named at birth (at least, it wasn’t indicated that they were). They were just called Elder Son and Younger Son. What the youngest was called, I don’t know.
3) His girls were never named at all.
4) When girls are named at all, they are already women, and seem to be named after their appearance. I don’t know why his wife was called O-lan. That’s never explained.
5) Wang Lung’s compassion is real, as he does not kill on sight his oldest girl, born in a time of famine and developmentally and mentally handicapped. He cares for her his whole life, for no one else will, calling her his “poor fool.” Many times, it is indicated that she should have been killed or sold long ago. And even her father acknowledges that it should have been so… He sometimes seems ashamed the he couldn’t do it.
6) The title is one of the most fitting of any book I have ever read. Read it yourself to find out why.
7) Every line of every page moved me. So I’ll just stop here.
This book illustrates vividly the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun, and as different as Wang Lung’s culture is from mine, the human struggles are the same.
Wang Lung wants nothing more than peace in his household, but never finds it. Life comes full circle. We reap what we sow. And without Christ, there is only emptiness at the end. Not peace. And my heart breaks for him.