This opening line is burned in my memory mainly because it served as part of a question during regular drills for my high school "Brain Brawl" team. The second I hear the name Wang Lung I don't think of an 80s three-hit wonder (that's Wang Chung), but of a book I hadn't thought to read until I began the goal of reading all the Pulitzer fiction winners.
The Good Earth chronicles most of the life of Wang Lung, who begins the story as a poor farmer. He has want for a wife to help care for his ailing father (who, despite hovering near death doesn't go anywhere) and him. O-Lan is a slave from a rich house, not beautiful but enough to do the job. She is described as not smart, yet throughout the book she demonstrates a savvy nature that helps the family survive, then thrive. The wealth gained from the ripples she causes, however, turns Wang Lung greedy to a point, then remorseful when he realizes the true wealth he had all along.
Some readers criticize the accuracy of portrayals of the Chinese people in this book. Buck, of course, was American, but lived for a time in China. For me, The Good Earth was a rage read of sorts - when you read of how women are treated in this time and how Wang Lung rewards his good fortune, you want to throttle him. Then, when karma appears to strike in the form of locusts and freeloading relatives, you want to chuckle.
I hadn't realized until after finishing the book that it's the first in a trilogy. I am tempted to read the other two, if only to see the story to the end.