Book Review: The Good Earth

The Good Earth 

by Pearl S. Buck

Published by Washington Square Press 1931

357 pages

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This book had a slow, but fascinating start. We are introduced initially to two characters, but I could almost argue four. First we have Wang Lung, the protagonist, and his father living poorly in a small farmhouse in China. And then, from the first pages of this book we learn how sacred the water and the land are – not just Wang Lung, but all the people of the village. They take on such importance I would even argue that Land and Water are characters of their own.

This is possibly my favorite part of the novel, the way the land rises up and takes precedence over everything. The land grows and evolves just like Wang Lung and his family. If not for the Land and the Waters, Wang Lung would not have his success, which is what drives the novel. In many cases, Wang Lung seems to understand his connection to the land is one of flesh and blood.

This book is mostly about character development rather than plot development, which means it can be a slower read to some, but it’s certainly not without action. The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung and his wife O-Lin. They are humble servants of the gods and the Earth until Wang Lung finds wealth, from some small theft, but mostly his own intuitions. Wang Lung is one of the most fully developed characters I’ve come across in fiction. He’s a man you admire for his strength in spirit and his insightfulness, and yet as he is granted success and wealth for his hard work, he is tempted by new, worse things and becomes a man you absolutely hate at times. His life story is so compelling and despite his mistakes you praise him for his endless pursuits, his hard-work, and his ability to reflect on his own rise and fall.

Rise and fall. Here we have a major theme of the novel. The rains rose and flooded the earth, drought came and starved the people, and still the beans and the wheat would grow. Lung and his family would harvest when they could and they begged when they needed to, but not without doing the work that could be done. Even if it broke Wang Lung’s back, he would do the work. And then there was the rise and fall of the wealthy. The house of Hwang, which was once a symbol of wealth in the village, fell and the lords and ladies died, princes had to sell the land and the house belonged to beggars. That is until Wang Lung bought the house and reestablished a place for prosperity. I was very fascinated with the ideas of cycles in this story, and how each time a new cycle would begin, it somehow evolved itself into a larger, more complex one than the last. The Earth cycled in fertility. Wang Lung cycled his hope and despair. The first daughter was an evil omen and then his favorite child. The rich and the poor cycled out leaders. Wang Lung was constantly shouting for peace in his household and then finding it. Readers are constantly reminded of the good and the bad and how they’ve come to rely on each other.

This book is a very unique look at pre-revolutionary China, and yet its difficult not to connections to today. They say history repeats itself.

It was funny how everything fit together in a harmonious connection, and when it was going poorly for one man, he blamed the gods. Just as Wang Lung cursed the gods for the drought. And then one day it was as though no god could challenge his wealth and he no longer needed them. He had gained control of his estate, and yet his family was lost to him. He hardly knew each of his children. Pearl S. Buck wove a brilliant story with complexities that will leave the reader pondering long after the book is finished.

I could go on and on and on about the things I loved in this book, but at some point I have to tell you its time to go read it for yourself. I’d love to hear any thoughts you had on it. It’s a Pulitzer winner, so make sure that if you haven’t read it, it gets on the top of your to-read list (because I know its probably 200 books deep).

I give The Good Earth a five out of five stars

5 Stars

 

 

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Audiobook Review: Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization

 

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Nevewhere by Neil Gaiman

Dramatization written by Dirk Maggs

Narrated by James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head, David Harewood, and more

Runtime: 3 hours and 48 minutes

Goodreads Synopsis:

Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere.

My Review:

I’ve read a lot of great reviews on this book, and I certainly enjoyed it. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and therefore, to my fullest regret, I can not give this review five stars.

Gaiman has never disappointed me, and I’m not saying Neverwhere was a disappointment, but  the abridged version was far too rushed for the entire story to be as compelling as Gaiman originally wrote it.

Let me start with the story. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a brilliant story, and I was completely captured with London beneath and London above. The premise of the story, a second London in which all memories forgotten, and all of the people who have fallen through the cracks exist, was a thrill. It had everything you love about fantasy – mystery, danger, a little bit of nonesense. I highly recommend the story of Neverwhere

This version was abridged, which I knew before starting. I know that abridged versions can’t possibly tell the story with the same suspense as the original, but I felt this one was shortened too much. The original audiobook is over 12 hours long and this version comes in at less than 3 hours. A fraction of the time means a fraction of the story.

The storytelling itself was very good. It was told by some popular Hollywood voices such as Christopher Lee, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head…. and more. Neil Gaiman even makes a small appearance. They told the story very well and I had no difficulty with understanding the character’s roles; it was easy to recognize their emotion and predicament simply by the use of tone and expression of the narrators. It is a dramatic reading, so you can expect to get the full effect of the story that is told. It is much like watching a film with your eyes closed. They even used sound effects in every scene. In fact, the sound effects were as much a part of the story as was the voice acting.

The audio mixing was well done, but I had a hard time understanding the actors at times when the sound effects were too dominant. I was listening with my headphones and I was constantly adjusting the volume up and down because the voices would get lost in the sounds of splashing water or sometimes the sound effects would be deafening loud. The sound effects helped lay out the scene, but they interrupted the story at times beyond their usefulness.

I was enjoying the story and nearly addicted to listening to it; I was more than happy to have to wait for the bus to arrive to my stop since it allowed me plenty of time to listen to the story uninterrupted. I made my way through the first 6 chapters and was giddy to begin the last one. I was on a long car drive, so I knew I would be able to finish it without stopping. To my disappointment however, the story was already done. The last 28 minutes of the story, all of chapter 7, were bloopers and additional readings from the cast. I felt cheated out of more story. Granted, the bloopers had me laughing out loud at times, but I was much more interested in learning more of the story.

Ultimately, Neverwhere was worth the read. I still highly recommend this story to anyone with any interest. It’s a compelling story and the voice acting is very well done. I’m sure I will return to it often for a quick read. Some of the sound effects were distracting to the story, and the abridged version will never be a match for the full version, but Neverwhere is engaging fantasy for all book-lovers.

I give Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization a 3 out of 5 stars. 

3 Stars

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

TFIOS

The Goodreads Synopsis:

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at Cancer Kid Support Group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

My Review:

To be honest, I really didn’t want to write this review. It’s pretty obvious by my timing that I put off reading this book until the film was made, and now here’s my review the night before The Night Before Our Stars big premiere event. I can’t help that I have a certain distaste for reading books with large fan followings. While I usually end up enjoying these books at some level, I can’t help but think my opinion was swayed (either for the good or the bad) due to the large following of the book or series. It is for this reason I have yet to read The Hunger Games series.

Anyway, without further ado – actually, I typed that prematurely. I just took several Buzzfeed quizzes before diving into this review. Like somehow discovering what my beer choice says about me would enlighten me and make writing this review a breeze.

*ahem* without further ado

The Fault in Our Stars was brilliantly written. If I had half of John Green’s talent you could be sure I’d be doing more than blogging. Here’s the thing – TFIOS isn’t some outstanding story about a cancer kid with new insights on life and struggle. I mean, it is, but it doesn’t necessarily stand out above the rest of the stories about cancer kids with their struggles and new life experiences. Green knows how to pull the heartstrings as well as the next guy. While reading TFIOS it wasn’t the pain the characters experienced but their joy that made this a worthwhile read.

So for the sake of not repeating everything that’s been said about this book, I’m going to discuss some of what the Celebration! Cinema Book Club went over when I had time to visit.

I liked Hazel as a protagonist. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews calling her pretentious and unrealistically witty for  a sixteen-year-old. I thought she was lovely. Hazel has a completely different sense of time from normal teenagers. She’s dying, and she is keenly aware of it. Therefore, I find her quick wits a heroic gesture to fight for her adulthood, and also a weakness as readers are reminded that Hazel does not have the same life as most other teens. The same goes for Augustus. He and Hazel are a perfect match because they are both stubborn and weak in similar ways – not that they are two pretentious teens using their sickness to heighten their sensitivity and intellect.

An Imperial Affliction – Hazel’s favorite book  – creates a beautiful frametale to Green’s story. Anna’s story (from An Imperial Affliction) and Hazel’s are connected in some unseen ways. I’d say its agreed that Hazel looks to VanHouten’s story as a comfort, as she identifies with Anna, but more so, the fact that Anna’s story is unfinished helps Hazel live her story. It’s no wonder that Hazel wants to know what happens to Anna’s parents when she worries what will happen to her own parents in the event of her death. The answer isn’t in the book though, and through a string of some happy and some sad events, Hazel gets a little closer to understanding the end of An Imperial Affliction and maybe even her own story.

** This portion contains some slight spoilers** That brings me to Peter VanHouten, the author of Hazel’s favorite story and perhaps, in my opinion, John Green’s most brilliantly written character. Peter was a jerk, right? Perfect. Hazel and Augustus are treated poorly in Peter’s house, yes, but what I loved about this is that for possibly the first time, the two of them are given the same treatment as everyone else. And Peter, his is the ultimate struggle. As one of the ones left behind with only his brilliant mind. I can’t fathom what a man of his intelligence struggles with – the afterlife? the afterlife of someone he loves? Perhaps the alcohol is consumed to numb these sorts of thoughts. **Spoilers over**

And finally, I can’t ignore the romance of Hazel and Gus. They might be sixteen, but they love like they’re sixty. It seemed a bit too perfect at first, but I think it all makes sense. They are both conscious of their time left on earth. They do not love with urgency though because they each understand that time will take what it wants. And as Hazel is cautious not to hurt anybody in the even of her impending death, she proceeds slowly. They both have this mature understanding of protecting the other, but they do so in different ways. Hazel doesn’t want to hurt Gus, and Gus doesn’t want Hazel to make unnecessary sacrifices. Compared to Issac and Monica’s relationship they show some maturity beyond their years. Isaac and Monica’s “always” had a predictable ending, but Gus and Hazel agree that their relationship is “okay”. Now that is impressive (and okay, kind of adorable). Sometimes bodies get sick and sometimes love gets sick, and they are completely familiar with both.

The Fault in Our Stars was a worthwhile read. It is more than an emotional tear-jerker or some teen love story. It is a story full of deep insights and admirable characters you’ll feel like you’ve met before.

I give this book five out of five stars. 

5 Stars