I probably would never have picked this book up had it not been chosen by a friend for a group read. Honestly, I don't go for Chinese lit very much, but I agreed to read this one, even though I was prepared to be bored at least. But I downloaded the audio version, read by Anthony Heald, and listened to the book while doing some much needed organizational stuff, and it was surprisingly good. I enjoyed the reading so much that I would sometimes stop doing stuff to just listen.
I think that had I read this on my own though, I don't think I'd have enjoyed it as much. There are times when a reader can add a whole lot to the story, and this was one of them. I actually do have an e-copy of the book, and I read along at some parts, and I think that listening to it was a fuller experience for me. Heald just seemed to GET these characters in a way I probably wouldn't have. He almost seemed to channel them so that his reading was borderline dramatization. It wasn't over the top - it was just perfect.
I don't know how much of this accurately represents Chinese culture. I don't know much about it myself, and so I took it all with a grain of salt. I don't particularly care for the attitudes towards women that are generally depicted in Chinese lit, so I don't read very much of it. But even if none of the cultural references are accurate, this was still an engaging and interesting story full of very human characters. At times, I didn't know whether to root for or against the main character, Wang Lung. I initially loved his character, and then as he progressed through life and different situational hardships and prosperity, I found myself mentally crossing my fingers while watching him with a wary eye. I wanted to like him, but sometimes the things he chose to do made that very, very hard. At one point, I was so disappointed in him, that I was shaking with anger at the sheer gall the man had, especially after everything, everything that had happened. That man had some cojones on him, I'll give him that.
I think that my favorite character in the story was O-lan. My heart broke for her. We never really get to know her fully, seeing things through Wang Lung's eyes, and he's not particularly perceptive when it comes to O-lan, or kind when he is, but I loved her. She never gave an inch of her dignity, no matter what her hardship, and she had so many. I was in awe of her, all while my heart hurt for the lack of gratitude she received for everything she gave. She deserved much better.
I found this to be an interesting story about a man's life and the things that he was able to achieve with that life, at the cost of so much, and the fleetingness of it all. I think that's what saddens me the most thinking about this book: we can't take any of it with us. I did enjoy this one, and I think the story will stay with me for a while, if nothing else.