the story begins with a family living in rural china in the ’20’s. they are doing well… the main character and husband owns land and farms it lovingly in order to provide for his family. They have enough… and then the weather turns, impoverishing them. Eventually, they must leave their land and their home for the city. life is hard, and right now the husband and wife are thinking about selling their little daughter in an attempt to climb out of their dark world of hunger and cold. It just breaks my heart… i think of how beautiful the little baby girl must be, and i feel the devastation of such a position.
The book is remarkably touching… this man works his life to bring about goodness and wealth for his family through the security of land ownership. The man struggles to find refinement in his life and surroundings, and is a success at bringing a new level of life to his family. He does build quite a land hold, to the point where he cannot farm it, and must hire workers. Eventually he rents the land out to neighbors for a portion of their take. The tragedy here is that his sons, whom he has struggled to raise and educate and provide a higher quality of life for, plot to sell the land as the man ages towards death. They do not understand the value of the land to themselves, and to their father.
there is one other bit of tragedy in the book. The man has a first wife, Olan, who he does not appreciate. throughout the book she works hard and gives to the man and the family, and gets little in return. as she lies dying, the man is saddened by his lack of appreciation of Olan, and recognizes too late what work she has done. This is a solemn reminder to all of us that we often do not appreciate what we have at hand until it is gone.