More Than 90 Years After its Debut, Book by Bucks Author Continues to Wow Readers
As her major work celebrates a milestone, an author with an important connection to Bucks County is remembered for her talent and activism.
Back in January, I was in the Lahaska Bookshop looking through their selection. I saw Pearl S. Buck’s name on one of the upper shelves where I stood and I remember reading that she had lived in the area for some time. With that in mind, I purchased her 1931 novel, “The Good Earth”.
Having finished it near the 92st anniversary of its publication, I thought about how Buck’s work was impactful for its time. Not only because the Pulitzer Prize-winning story was beautifully written, but also because it gave a Western audience a realistic and digestible look into a world that most were not familiar with: the last years of ancient China, as seen through one family’s story.
Buck herself knew this China well. She was raised in the country with her missionary parents, learning Chinese and playing with the local children of Zhenjiang during her childhood. As a Westerner, she was able to craft a story about a family that would have lived during that time period in a way that her native audience would understand and, most importantly, sympathize with.
The book tells the story of Wang Lung, a farmer in a village similar to the one she lived in. Throughout the story, the reader watches the farmer go through many of the trials of life: marriage, the building of a family, hard work, the gains and losses of wealth, the horrors of food insecurity, class warfare, modernization, lust, death, and a struggle with faith.
While these aspects of life can be see as universal, Buck reminds the reader where they are through cultural specifics that harken back to the last days of the historic China. Slavery, the role of women in society, folkloric religious beliefs, filial piety (occasionally to a fault), and Wang Lung’s excursions to the world outside of his village showcase aspects of the culture in which the country lived in for most of its long and near-mythical history.
When the John Day Company published her work on March 2, 1931, the book became a hit, becoming the best-selling novel of that year and the following one. Her work placed this now-gone world into the hearts of Western readers, and renewed an interest in this culture, which by then was changing into the modern China we know today.
While she is most well-known for this and other works of fictions, Buck’s contribution to Asian culture in the West did not stop on the page. Through activism, Buck became an early proponent of women’s rights, civil rights, and mixed-race adoption, specifically of African American and Asian children.
March 6 will mark the 50th anniversary of the author’s death. Her legacy is kept alive by organizations like Pearl S. Buck International, located in Perkasie, which houses her manuscripts and currently works on philanthropic endeavors, as well as promoting writing amongst local residents.
After her death, her body was interred at her former residence. The Pearl S. Buck House, formerly known as Green Hills Farm, is located in a scenic part of the town of Dublin in Bucks County, where she lived for 40 years.
A large stone above her grave bears her name and the years she lived. On her actual gravestone, her birth name was etched in Chinese characters, a lasting homage to the country and culture that made her life.
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