The Good Earth, a historical fiction novel about China by American author Pearl S. Buck (1892 -1973) was first published on March 2nd, 1931 by the specialized John Day Company in New York, where her second husband Richard J. Walsh (1886-1960) worked as editor.
The first part in her House of Earth trilogy, which dramatizes family life in a Chinese village in the early 20th century, continued with Sons in 1932 and A House divided in 1935.
It was the best-selling novel in the United States in 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932 and contributed to Buck winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938.
Buck, also known by her adopted name Sai Zhenzhu, was born on June 26th, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia as the daughter of American Southern Presbyterian missionaries Absalom Sydenstricker (1852–1931) and Caroline Maude Stulting (1857–1921).
When she was five months old, the family moved to Tsingkiang near Nanking, the capital of Kiangsu Province and at the time also the capital of China, where she grew up bilingual.
She lived in Asia until 1934, except for the periods between 1911 and 1914, when she attended college in Lynchburg, Virginia and in 1924/25, to earn her master’s degree from Cornell University in New York State.
She married American economist and agricultural missionary John Lossing Buck (1890-1975) in 1917, who was send to Suchow in the landlocked Anhwei Province. Already very empathetic, being confronted with the miserable living conditions of local peasants marked her forever.
The realistic and sympathetic depiction of the desperately poor farmer Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan in The Good Earth helped prepare Americans of the 1930s to consider Chinese as allies in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which began on July 7th, 1937.
The work was included in Life Magazine’s list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924–1944 and in 2004 returned to the bestseller list when reintroduced to the public by television host Orpah Winfrey (born 1954). A 1932 Broadway production by the Theatre Guild in New York received poor critical reception and ran only 56 performances.
However, the 1937 film adaptation with Paul Muni (1895-1967) and Luise Rainer (1910-2014), directed by Sidney Arnold Franklin (1893-1972) and based on the stage version, was more successful. Rainer even won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her subdued character role.