Friday, May 27, 2011

A House Divided

A House Divided. Pearl S. Buck. 1935/2006. Moyer Bell. 348 pages.  

In this way Wang Yuan, son of Wang the Tiger, entered for the first time in his life the earthen house of his grandfather, Wang Lung.

The third book in Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth trilogy. (The first two books are The Good Earth and Sons.) Is A House Divided the best of the three? Perhaps if you prefer books where characters actually have names (and some character development).

At the end of Sons, Wang Yuan had returned home to face his father. He'd been sent away to school--to learn how to become a soldier--and now he's returned. In Sons, I didn't quite grasp why he had come home. I knew he was angry--very angry. And I knew his father was shocked--very shocked--by his son's new beliefs, new philosophies. But I didn't know at the time exactly WHAT that meant for them both.

Within a few paragraphs of A House Divided, however, it all became clear. When Yuan came home it was because if he stayed at the school, if he stayed in this new army, this new revolution, it would just be a matter of time before he'd be marching against his father and his father's way of life--against the scattered war lords that dominated the country. And so when it came down to it--he chose his father. Not because he agreed with his father. Not because he wanted to step into his father's place. No, he still rejects almost everything his father stands for. But he's choosing to remove himself from both extremes, he's choosing not to do battle or choose sides at all.

So Yuan cannot--or should I say will not--stay in his father's home. So where can Yuan go? Well, after a very brief stay in his grandfather's hut in the country--Wang Lung--he decides to go to the city to see his half-sister, Ai-lan, and his stepmother. (Is stepmother the right word? His father had two wives. One wife chosen by Wang the Merchant, one wife chosen by Wang the Landlord. I believe he calls her mother but she's not his biological mother.) He remains with them--in the city--for quite a while! In the city, he goes to school--not to learn the art of war, of soldiering--but to pursue his own interests. And he has many interests. He wants to know everything, to learn everything. He wants more, more, more. Part of him is interested in beauty and nature and poetry. And another part of him is interested in agriculture, in farming. He wants to know THE BEST way to work the land. There is a part of him that would love to return to the land and be a farmer, an educated farmer, a farmer who can read and write and philosophize, but a farmer nonetheless. But his life with his half-sister and two cousins Meng and Sheng, leads him into a little trouble. For new ideas abound in the city. And some of these ideas are a little dangerous. There comes a time when his new home is no longer safe...

So Yuan goes to the United States. What will he learn there? Will he be happy? Will he be miserable? Will he hate himself for loving it? Or love himself for hating it? When he returns--how will he see his country? Will he be able to find a place to really belong in China? Will Yuan ever stop over-thinking everything in his life?  

Wang Yuan is SO different from his father, Wang the Tiger. And it was nice to see that change, that contrast. But Yuan's periods of self-doubt and self-loathing--which we see cover to cover--became tiresome. I'm not saying that he wasn't believable as a character, that he wasn't developed enough. It's just that it kept me from liking him as much as I'd hoped at the start. The first third of the book, I thought, held great promise. I was liking Yuan--pleasantly surprised that I was liking him since I hadn't really "liked" Wang Lung or Wang the Tiger--but in the end I didn't really grow to love him.

However, I can say that while I didn't *love* him as a character, I can see how Yuan's inner turmoil matches that of China, that of his generation, those torn between loyalties to the older generation and these new ideas of revolution and freedom. Yuan is not alone in his angst. 

Yuan on his "father's love."

He has never loved me all his life long! He thinks he loves me and that he holds me the only dear thing he has, and yet never once has he asked me what I really want to do, or if he did, it was to refuse me if what I aid was not his wish, so that I always must take thought to say what he wanted and I have had no freedom! (5)

Yuan on why he can't be a soldier:

I cannot kill--I am not brave, I know. The truth is I cannot hate wholly enough to kill a man. I always know how he feels, too. (44)

Yuan on the poor:

At this time of his life Yuan loved pleasure, and he was unwilling to see the poor, and yet he was so shaped within that he saw them all even while he wished he did not. (68)

Yuan on having sons of his own:

Yes, one day he would have sons. But those sons--they should be free--free of any shaping from him who was their father! They should not be made for soldiers, nor shaped for any destiny, nor bound to any family cause. (266)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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