Friday, May 13, 2011


Sons. Pearl S. Buck. 1932/2005. Moyer Bell. 320 pages.

Wang Lung lay dying. He lay dying in his small, dark, old earthen house in the midst of his fields, in the room where he had slept as a young man, upon the very bed where he had lain on his marriage night. 

Sons is the second novel in Pearl S. Buck's Good Earth Trilogy. While the first novel chronicled the life of the farmer, Wang Lung, the second book chronicles the lives of Wang Lung's three sons: Wang the Eldest (also known as, Wang the Landlord), Wang the Second, (also known as, Wang the Merchant), and Wang the Third (also known as, Wang the Tiger). These are the same three sons that were nameless in The Good Earth.

If Sons has a main character, it is the youngest of Wang Lung's sons, Wang the Tiger. This is the 'rebellious' son that left home when his father took his third woman, Pear Blossom, in old age. The son that left home to become a soldier. If his father's ambition was to buy good land, to create a lasting legacy for his sons, Wang the Tiger's ambition is to be a great war lord, to collect an army--a well-trained, trustworthy army--and to make a name for himself. The book follows his life over several decades. We follow him on his ambitious journey. We witness his crimes in the name of justice--murdering robbers and bandits, murdering traitors in his own army, murdering the opposition. Wang the Tiger being just one of many war lords who choose to go to battle in the spring of each year. (And it really did seem that random. Who are we going to go fight this year? Okay! Let's go!) If there was logic involved in the warring, I missed it. I mean it was "I want more power, more land, more glory, more people paying taxes TO ME" which turned into who do I kill to get what I want. (Or at the very least who would I be willing to kill if he doesn't feel like surrendering to me.)

For the first two-thirds of the novel, Wang the Tiger believes that he will never get married, that he'll never have sons of his own. But. As he gets a little older, he begins to see things differently. He begins to want a son of his own. A son to be a great soldier, a great leader, a great war lord. His ambitions turn from himself to his son. So he asks his two brothers for help. Each brother selects a wife for him. And Wang the Tiger does not have a favorite wife--he barely recognizes that they have faces and are capable of speech. (Yes, it really is that bad.) One wife gives birth to a daughter, another gives birth to a son. (I don't believe the wives or the sons have names. Though I could be wrong about the son. Chances are he'll have a name in the next novel, A House Divided.)

So do you think that this son will grow up to please his father in every way? Or will this rebellious son have a rebellious son of his own?

This novel doesn't exclusively focus on Wang the Tiger. We also learn about Wang the Landlord, his two wives (still nameless), his sons and daughters (also nameless) and Wang the Merchant, his wife (still nameless), and their children (also nameless). We see their strengths and weaknesses. We see how these brothers relate to one another--on the rare occasions they come together. It's interesting to see how the brothers treat Wang the Tiger. When his future is still uncertain, when his army is unproved, the two are very reluctant to ally themselves with him. But when things change, then they definitely change the way they treat him!

I'm not sure that I "liked" any of the characters in this one. Wang the Tiger can be fierce and cruel when angry. And sometimes his anger is justifiable. But not always. And Wang the Tiger sees himself as being too soft--not hard enough, not cruel enough. He feels that he should be able to kill on a whim without having to be good and angry first. He wishes that he didn't feel what (little) he feels. He's definitely VERY different from Wang Lung. As for Wang the Merchant and Wang the Landlord, I feel what we get are mostly one-dimensional portraits. Wang the Landlord is given to pleasure--selfish pleasure. He doesn't know how to say no--when it comes to himself, when it comes to his eldest son, when it comes to pleasing his two wives and keeping peace in the house. He spends money freely, recklessly. And he has no great ambition in life other than to feel pleasure at every opportunity. Wang the Merchant, on the other hand, is greedy--but in a different way. He's a shrewd business man. He wants to make as much money as possible. He's not above using guile if it helps him make a bit more money with each transaction. He does not want money so he can spend it. He does not believe in needlessly spending money--just because you have it, just because you can, just to show other people how much you've got. He's practical. He's got a plan. Wang the Tiger definitely has thoughts about each of his brothers!

I'm not sure I'd recommend The Good Earth and Sons. But if you've read The Good Earth, I would recommend--unless you ABSOLUTELY hated it--continuing on with the series. It is interesting to see how these two books contrast one another, and to see the family drama continue through a second generation.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
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I am not a fan of:

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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