Dragon Seed – Pearl S Buck
Pearl S Buck wrote this book after she had won the Nobel Prize for literature. This book has all the Pearl Buck Magic. I read The Good Earth 5 years ago and the descriptions in the book still remain with me. I thought, this is the best book I would ever read. But then, I was wrong.
Dragon Seed is moving. It is not an easy book to read. “A novel of China Today” says the line under the title on the cover of the book. “Today” is way back in 1942 – during World War II.
Pearl Buck makes you live thru the times of war from the eyes of a Chinese Farmer and his family. It is about war – people in times of war, women in times of war, atrocities in times of war, food and lack of it in times of war, and hope in times of war. Some of the scenes in this book will be with me all my life.
Ling Tan is a farmer. He and his family – wife(Ling Sao), three sons (Lao San, Lao Er, Lao Ta), two daughters-in-law (Orchid, Jade), one daughter (Pansiao) and two grand- children live in a small village near Nanking, China. His Elder daughter is married off to an educated merchant, Wu Lien in Nanking. She lives there with Wu Lien, their two children and Wu Lien’s old mother.
One day, they learn that war is to come. The scene when they see planes bombing for the first time is funny. The bomb drops on a farmer’s field making a large hole. This farmer is happy since he anyway wanted to dig a pond in his field for a long time. He had been putting it off. Others farmers get jealous as they also want ponds in their respective fields. Then, they see smoke rising out of the city when it is bombed. Slowly, the concept of bombing and other modern ammunition dawns on them.
Thru war-pages in the book, which by the way, is most of the book, there are heart moving scenes – of people being killed, of young and old women being raped, of beautiful young boys being raped, etc. Many die and there is a lack of – space, coffins and effort to bury the dead. Many dead are simply thrown into the river. In summer, they see the ill effects of this when the water is contaminated and diseases spread causing more deaths.
Like thousands of other families, Ling Tan’s family also goes thru all this. Old Mother and Orchid are raped and they die. Lao Ta is “used as a woman”, but he survives it. Lao San’s children die of diseases. War changes the very personalities of the characters in the book. It makes them thick skinned – indifferent to killing a fellow human.
Among so many depressing things, Pearl Buck keeps alive an element of hope. Despite this, it is difficult to not cry when reading the book.
The book ends thus:
“Is there not promise of rain?” Ling Tan asked suddenly out of darkness. There had been need of rain for many days.
“Only a promise,” Lao Er said.
Ling Tan’s thoughts are intriguing and most enjoyable to read. When Ling Tan learns that the earth is round, he imagines a foreigner on the other side of the earth tilling the land. The following excerpt is in this context:
“But the foreigner on the other side of the land grew to be a joke in the Ling Tan’s household, and if the soil grew dry he would pretend to grumble that the foreigner on the other side had drained it, or if his turnips came up smaller than they should, he said the foreigner was pulling the roots”
Another interesting thought of Ling Tan:
“To him the stars were a handful of lights, lanterns, jewels perhaps, toys and decorations, things for beauty rather than use, like a woman’s earrings.”
Food descriptions thru out the book make you hungry. The way they are cooked, the way they look, they smell, they taste, and how nutritious they are… slurrp!! There are paragraphs and paragraphs about food scattered all over the book.
“Out of the eggs she had brought and with some bits of meat and onion she found in a bowl on the table she made a dish so fragrant with goodness that Wu Lien, waking a little to brush off a fly, smelled it and opened his eyes.”
“Here was this good food under his nostrils, eggs such as a city man does not know from birth to death, and he plunged in his two chopsticks and did not take the bowl from his face until it was empty.”
Here is one of the thought provoking paragraphs. This is when Pansiao thinks how the girl her brother would marry should be:
“Did she love her brother or hate him when she thought thus of him? Some of both, she thought for he was both lovable and hateful. Perhaps any woman, even the one sought, would love and hate him, and she must be the one in whom these two did not quarrel, so that when hate came love was not killed by it, and when love waxed, hate stayed for self- defense.”
There are phrases and descriptions in the book that show that women were trivialized in those times. Phrases like – “in the end, she is only a woman“. Jade’s character captured changes in women in those times. Jade is an independent and forward thinking woman that wants to do more than rear children. Her husband seeks her advice in tough times and she demonstrates a lot of talent and intelligence.
This is best book I would ever read.