Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unprecedented

No, that's not one of our vocabulary words this week, but it is true that multiple blog posts in one week is unprecedented for me.

I have two book reviews to blog about, so that's the first order of business. Earlier this week, I finished Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark. I've always been a fan of Clark's suspenseful tales. I've read nearly all of her books. As a result, I've learned a lot about her writing style. It didn't take me long to figure out how this one would go. Carolyn Mackenzie's older brother disappeared ten years ago under very mysterious circumstances. She commits herself to the task of finding him, but instead opens a huge can of worms. Because of her investigation, her brother becomes the main suspect in a series of murders. Carolyn works to clear her brother's name, but someone doesn't want that to happen. In typical Mary Higgins Clark style, the heroine faces almost certain demise, but is ultimately rescued by her love interest. The bad guy turns out not to be any of the red herrings thrown out to muddy readers' judgement, but instead, the "least likely" suspect, a supposed good guy who has been harboring a deep dark secret for years. It was a good, quick read, even if it was a little predictable. Great for curling up with on a cold winter night.

This morning, I finished my re-read of Pearl S. Buck's classic The Good Earth. I read it for the first time in high school. I'll admit that I didn't get much from it at that time. It's not an easy read, and that was more my style then (hence the aforementioned affinity for Mary Higgins Clark). However, I assigned it as a novel that some of my freshman Honors English students would read, and I decided to reread it. I was richly rewarded for this decision. Wow. What an awesome tale Buck spins. The novel follows Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer, from his wedding day to his death in pre-revolutionary China. Wang Lung is a simple man, and a good man, but he is flawed, just as we all are. He is vain, as we see time and again from his youth throughout old age. He trusts nothing more than the land, and that pays off. He works hard and suffers greatly as a young man, but becomes known as Wang Lung the Rich Man when he is old.

One of the things that my students find appalling is the seeming degradation of women throughout the novel. O-lan, Wang Lung's wife, is described as ugly, which makes her better suited for marriage since she'll be less likely to nag. Other prominent female characters, such as slaves and concubines, are treated as commodities. Clearly, sons are prized far above daughters, though Wang Lung does love his mentally retarded oldest daughter, the "poor fool." The attitude toward women merely reflects the social tenor of the time. Upon closer examination, one can see that O-lan is a symbol of great faithfulness and selflessness and serves as a strong contrast for Wang Lung's greed. She is a woman to be admired- resourceful, efficient, and wise.

I know my students are having a hard time loving this book, but I'm certainly glad to have had the chance to revisit it. I found it to be a compelling look at a culture diametrically opposed to the one in which I live. However, the truths revealed in Buck's novel are timeless.

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