Book Review: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (Unable to Give a Rating)

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The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Rating: Unable to Give a Rating

Target: Historical/Cultural Fiction

Category: Mixed Feelings

Review: I have mixed feelings about The Good Earth. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. Most of the time, I don’t like it when people of non-Chinese origin write about China. The author, Pearl S. Buck, has spent more time in China than I have. But I guess, I feel a sort of thing for my birth country that isn’t blind pride or love even. But with all the acculturation and exoticism of the Far East, I feel protective. Yes, that’s the word. I’m protective of depictions of China. On Goodreads, I’m finding stark differences between the reactions of Chinese/Chinese-Americans vs. non-Asians.

It is startling, how uncivilized and how un-human, Wang Lung seems. He’s a farmer, rural and uneducated and with humble origins – but even farmers have deeper emotions, deeper consciousness. Buck doesn’t portray Lung in that way. He’s a complex character, but complex in a very mundane way. The characters are all rather flat and stereotypes are aplenty. In stereotypes, there is always some truth, no matter how small.

It is true that girls were once abandoned and thought of as second-class. Jump two generations back in my history, and I had female ancestors who were abandoned as babies. But Wang Lung’s wife kills the baby girl. It seems to me that Pearl S. Buck choose the most inhumane characters to use. They don’t even name their kids. I like to believe that, even in villages and on the rice paddies, the rural Chinese people had more dimensions that the ones Pearl chose.

The more I think about this book, the more I feel it’s such a negative portrayal of China. It seems like The Good Earth is more of a tool to educate 1930s America about China-the-oh-so-exotic-land-of-barbaric-baby-girl-killing-farmers-and-lotus-feet-and-oh-lets-not-forget-the-good-earth. Apparently it was used as a political tool to make people sympathize with China and hate Japan before the war. But it shouldn’t be the vision of China people hold in their hearts. There’s so much more to China than this side. Wang Lung isn’t the only personality you’ll find. Nor his wife. The Good Earth is written in a very bare style. It’s a bit reminiscent of a tell-it-like-a-religious-text narrative. I think it only won the Pulitzer because it was the 1930s and there wasn’t much diversity in those days.

No matter how educated a Westerner becomes about China, the language, and the history, it’s still not theirs. So their vision of the culture might have a cataract here or there. I don’t know if I have the right to say that. I read a bit about Pearl S. Buck. She spent most of her life in China. Her parents were missionaries and she grew up there. I think she probably truly appreciates China and the culture. But still, The Good Earth is missing something. It’s missing some feeling, some truth, some ideas, some intangible threads…


Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen (3/5)

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Rating: 3 Stars

Target: Historical Fiction for Adults

Category: Well-Written, Predictable Read

Review: I haven’t seen the movie, Water for Elephants, but I do see how this would make for an eventful movie script. Maybe it’s more epic on the big screens. Personally, I thought I would have liked the novel in Marlena’s point of view instead. Nonetheless, Water for Elephants has a cast of interesting characters. It was a nice shallow walk on the beach of a vast, by-gone thing of the last century – circuses. It didn’t make me think much deeper though.

Book Review: The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (4/5)

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Rating: 4 Stars

Target: Light Sci-Fi for Adults

Category: Well-Written, Different and Light Read

Review: The Time Keeper could have delved deeper into the issues it brushed on, but I liked it all the same as a light read. I liked the conciseness of the writing style; the formatting of bold words, folklorish lines and biblical backstories immediately drew me in. While there’s an interesting plotline with Victor (an aging billionaire who is looking into cryogenics), the storyline of Sarah falls rather flat. Lovestruck Sarah, who falls apart after being struck down by a mean crush, definitely misrepresented teenagers. Written to be an intelligent outcast, Sarah could have been much more gripping – so much more room for character development… Personally, I might have liked more of a focus on Father Time and his simple life story and the biblical elements. Overall, The Time Keeper has a great message. Why does time exist and why can’t we live forever? So that we are human. So that we feel. So that we treasure the moments.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

Target: Fantasy for Everybody

Category: Fine Read With Some Deep Tidbits but Not Quite Off the Deep End

Review: I began The Ocean at the End of the Lane, not exactly sure what to expect out of it. Turns out Gaiman started it as a short story, then later extended it to a novel. I loved the character of Lettie and the friendship between her and the unnamed main character. However, the magic events happening in the book felt a little off. I think maybe it was too much outright magic. Perhaps it should have been just a pinch of magic, just a little mysterious sprinkling of it. That would have tied in better. In addition, I would have liked some more character development in the main character. I empathized a lot with the 7-year-old boy, especially when I read the lines, “I was not happy as a child, although from time to time I was content. I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.” I would have liked more insight into his character, perhaps in a more linear time frame as he ages a few years. I probably won’t be rereading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I will take some interesting thoughts from it.

Writerly thoughts: strong points are the ocean at the end of the lane, Lettie, and the main character’s trust in Lettie

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (2/5)

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Rating: 2 Stars

Target: Fantasy YA

Category: Not the Story for Me

Review: In many ways, Seraphina was revolutionary. It rebelled against the YA genre and against the stereotypical representations of dragons. And what’s more – we have a strong female protagonist (until she falls in love…). Half-dragon musical prodigy Seraphina works for the court musician. When a murder happens in the castle, everybody thinks the assassin must have been a dragon.

The world and the representation of dragons is interesting. I liked the small touches – dragons like higher order mathematics (the closest they have to a religion), the little boy Fruit Bat never speaks but is so expressive, and Lars has a distinct accent.

            However, the storyline of Seraphina didn’t make the cut for me. The pacing felt misplaced. The plot sagged and needed some strong emotional nails to hammer it into place. There was a lot of potential for “stakes” to be set up, but they weren’t. I wasn’t drawn into the emotional studies of the characters. In addition, the love interest Prince Lucian Kiggs failed to be interesting, had a fiancé throughout this whole book, and felt like a nuisance. To put it bluntly, Kiggs annoyed me a lot. She just has a couple of conversations with Kiggs and she’s in love? What…

Writely thoughts: scenes that touched me: she feels like a stranger in her own home, the hug with Lars where he calls her “little sister,” and the hug with the little boy Fruit Bat

Book Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (3/5)

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Rating: 3 Stars

Target: Historical/Contemporary Fiction with a Touch of Magical Realism for Adults

Category: The Author Had Potential and There Were Parts I Loved But the Entireity of the Book Didn’t Quite Come Together the Way I Wish it Had

Writerly thoughts: Tea Obreht, a first-generation immigrant, wrote this novel while she was in college. I have a soft spot in my heart for immigrant writings and a soft spot for the writings of college kids. I desperately wanted to love The Tiger’s Wife, but unfortunately the novel as a whole lacks a little infrastructure.

On the bright side, Tea Obreht definitely has the inner workings of a talented writer – her work speaks lyrically and is filled with musings about life and people. I loved her descriptions of people. She writes about them in an unconventional and ultimately memorable way. The anecdotes about different people seem almost folklorish in the way they’re scattered as interconnected storylines across the span of the book.

Next to these anecdotes, the main storyline (about a young female doctor whose grandfather does) pales considerably. While I admired the unanswered questions, I wanted to know more about the (possibly homosexual) Luka and his suicidal fairy of girl – they seemed to me like a twisted and platonic version Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to know about the childhood of the tragic, death-obsessed Darisa and his sister Magdalena. The jumping around between storylines didn’t quite work for me. I think I would have liked it better as a collection of short fictions.

Book Review: Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird (1/5)

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Category: Skimmed and Found Hard to Read Even Thought It Had an Interesting Premise

Writerly thoughts: I really wanted to like Above the East China Sea, but I couldn’t. The writing style was clunky, the dialogue between the mother and son were very clumsy and a story of such a caliber deserved much more emotional channeling. It’s got big ideas, huge ideas, actually. But the writing wasn’t able to accomplish what it could have been. Again, the romance annoyed me, and I think deeper issues could have been explored in both storylines – the American girl dealing with the loss of her sister and thoughts of suicide, and the Okinowan girl who was raped three times in war, drowned and is waiting with her unborn son under the sea.

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (5/5)

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Rating: 5 Stars Continue reading