31 May 2017

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, adapted by Nick Bertozzi

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre:  Classic, historical fiction
Format: Free digital ARC from NetGalley in exchange for honest review; no monetary compensation
Heat level: Subtle -- the result of liaisons is mentioned, but not the act itself
Expected publication date: 04 Jul 2017

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I want to read classics -- in theory. The practice has been more difficult. Perhaps if I had given more time to reading classics when my brain was young and fresh, I might not have so much trouble understanding them now. Maybe they all need to be turned into graphic novels. Anyway . . .

The Good Earth is a Pulitzer Prize winner written by Pearl S. Buck and originally published in 1931. It is the life story of a poor Chinese farmer named Wang Lung, starting with the day that he goes to the richest man in the village to get a wife from the slaves in his house. This is a review of a new graphic novel adaptation by Nick Bertozzi.

I read this novel in high school as many people did, but the only thing I remembered about the plot after all these years is that a woman gives birth and goes immediately back to work in the fields. So I basically approached this graphic novel with fresh eyes. That didn't stop me, however, from wondering what was discarded from the original text to create this adaptation. After reading it, I went back to the novel and made a few spot comparisons. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the illustrations, though spare, accurately replaced the words and conveyed the emotions from many sections.

Speaking of illustrations, don't be misled by the beautiful cover. This is not a full-color graphic novel. The art style throughout the book is somewhat minimalistic but it gets the point across effectively. There aren't even the traditional comic-strip boxes bordering each scene, yet I had no trouble following the flow of the text and illustrations. I have had trouble following black-and-white graphic novels in the past because I couldn't tell the characters apart. Even though Bertozzi doesn't draw each character with the same look consistently, it is always clear who is in the scene.

The Good Earth is a sweeping family saga. The reader follows Wang Lung as he deals with all that life hands him, as well as a few messes he steps in himself. As the title suggests, the one constant is the land, the earth that sometimes withholds its bounty but more often than not provides a good living for those who are willing to put in the work, as Wang Lung does. Although the book is set somewhere in the early 1900s (Buck doesn't give specific dates, but a few events suggest that time frame), its story of feast and famine and familial strife is something that modern readers can understand.

I think the graphic novel format makes this an obvious choice for a high school student who has The Good Earth on her required reading list. I doubt you could get away with passing a test just from reading this, but it makes a good introduction to the material and may help a reluctant reader get through the original novel.

The Good Earth on Book Depository
The Good Earth on OverDrive
The Good Earth on Amazon

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