28 September 2014

Books over the Years ( Part 1 ) -  Pearl S Buck


The Good Earth

It was around 1954, my second year in an English School, when I began to make myself enjoy reading English books. Until then it was all Malay periodicals and novels. The need to catch up with English language became important when I realised how poor I was, having joined the English school a year earlier fresh from  a religious school where I hardly had a proper English lesson.

To begin yet another new seires (Books over the Years) for this blog I have a choice of old books which have left deep impressions in my memory. For a start I have to weigh seriously between a school text book, Charles Dicken's David Copperfield, and Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. I have decided on the latter, for its more worn out appearance. I am lucky for having this copy in my possession over the years since I purchased it on 13th March 1954 - for RM 1.80! That makes it 60 years ago and it is likely to outlast its beloved owner.

                                                         Pocket Book - 1953 edition


Noted in long hand: 1.80  
Hassan Abdul Karim 
S S S K Trengganu
13th March, 1954

I was fortunate to have two qualified English ladies teaching us in Form 4 and 5.   They were in K Terengganu following their husbands holding certain seniors government posts like heads of JKR, Education Department, etc. Those were the years before Independence when certain schools benefitted from expatriates’ wives who were qualified.  I remember it well that one of them was qualified with MA in English. Perhaps she was the one who introduced The Good Earth to us. To get the book I had to place order by post from a book store in K Lumpur. There was no bookshop selling English book in town.

 Author of The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck

The author, Pearl S Buck, born in 1892, followed her American parents  to China on their missionary work. Sshe earned her master’s degree in English Literature from Cornell University,  and later married an American in China where they spent  the best part of their life, as university lecturers and voluntary workers.  Pearl had special love for the local Chinese peasants, about whom she wrote in a number of her books.

Pearl had her hall of residence in Nanking named in her honour. President Bush paid his respect there on his visit to Nanking.

For her work, Pearl S Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 , cited "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Pearl was honoured in 1983 with a 5¢ Great Americans series postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. 

 “Wang Lang, rising from humble landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. Had it above his family The back page of the book in Pakcik’s possession, carries the following tribute to this book ‘The Good Earth ;

“Wang Lang, rising from humble Chinese farmer to wealthy landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. But soon, between Wang Lang and the kindly soil that sustained him, came flood and drought, pestilence and revolution ….

Through this one Chinese peasant and his children, Nobel Prize winner Pearl S Buck traces the whole cycle of life, its terrors, its passions, its persistent ambition and its rewards. Her brilliant nover – beloved by millions of readers throughout the world – is a universal tale of the destiny of men.”

I am never tired of going through this book. It is all about simple and innocent human and humanity, an environment not dissimilar to that I have been associated with the last twenty years.

Perhaps school children of todays, those in Form 4 would breeze through this wonderful book and enjoy what Pakcik had to struggle through – with my prized copy of Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary and all!



Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan.


ngasobahseliman said...

Wow....what a memory. I started reading English books only when I was in form 3 (in 1962) by virtue of the fact that my form teacher is a passionate and caring person and wants to help her students achieve excellence.I am still in contact with her till today. She loaned us books by Enid Blyton as our school library is not well equipped.May God bless her.

naniasda said...

Pakcik...I am delighted to let you know that this same copy of The Good Earth was in our house and I was in my early teens when I read it in the early seventies. It must have belonged to one of my older brothers who were all educated in English School then in the fifties. Pearl S. Buck has been one of my favourite authors since then and now I owned several more of her books. I was in Kinokuniya KLCC in 2009 as usual browsing for more books to read when I came upon The Good Earth in a glass case, without hesitating I bought it at a cost of RM60.17 and to imagine that it only cost you RM1.80 in the fifties! I would like to share here what Pearl S. Buck wrote on a page of the book I bought..."I am always glad when any of my books can be put into an inexpensive edition, because I like to think that any people who might wish to read them can do so. Surely books ought to be within the reach of everybody"...

Have a nice day Pakcik and you bring a smile to my face mentioning Pearl S. Buck :)

Al-Manar said...


It is amazing how you and a teacher 52 years ago are still in touch, a record of sort. Do you realise what seems trivial to you is a story that you can write in your blog. Many would enjoy reading such a rare real life story. So please, sit back and write about it.

Salaam to you and dear other half.

Al-Manar said...


Take a picture of your RM60.17 book and put it side by side with my old RM 1.80 copy. You will write an interesting posting. Of course you have my permission to copy part of this posting. I said the same to puan Nhasobahseliman above. You both have a little interesting true story to post in your blog.

I wonder how that expensive book look like. I think I will tell my readers to order their copies from Pakcik! I will make 'private copies' of my old The Good Earth for about RM 10.00. After all my original copy is more than 60 years old, way past their copy right, I should imagine.

Living where I am I do not have access to good bookshops and book sales which are often held in KL. On the other hand I would be spending on books and books which are stored unread.

So I hope you will have a posting on the strange price of The Good Earth when the author has been long gone. Who benefits from that when it was the writer's wish to see her book in as many hands as possible at low price?

Anonymous said...

assalamualaikum Pakcik,

thank you for dropping by to my blog stove2oven. i just saw your comment, sorry i have not login for quite awhile.

thank you :)


Al-Manar said...



I am grateful to see your posting on AnNur. Please see my short comment there.

Salaam to you

naniasda said...

Thank you for giving an idea to get my blog moving again Pakcik...am so drain of ideas on what to write because everything seems so personal these days! I should not have wrote the cost of the book you bought as RM1.80, it should be $1.80 back in those days and that was quite expensive too when money was scarce then.

kaykuala said...

Dear Pakcik,
One can never go wrong. No two ways about it. Reading is essential.What is happening now is one thinks in BM and try to have it translated in the mind. Reading can overcome this.It is amazing you could think well ahead at a young age. To equip yourself you acted fast and immediate. Great thinking!The dividends are the gains of alManar now!


Al-Manar said...

Dear Hank,

Things can never the same. We never had politics in mind as children. We were the poor subjects of a great empire, which, strange enough, seems to have done the right thing in our early education. We were taught to be proud of being a subject of that great empire. Now we are our own master. We can make and change our policy anytime!

Salaam to you, Hank

Anonymous said...

I have just read your posting and decided to respond. I cannot help relating our early happy days when you first joined Sultan Sulaiman English School, Kula Terengganu in 1953. I remember vividly that it was my class, Standard 7A ,now we call Form 3. I must say you were a rather timid lad from a local Arabic school, knowing very little English compared with us with six years of learning English. It was unbelievably funny how you pronounced certain English words. We, boys and girls alike, broke into big laughs - with me, admittedly, leading the chorus. Do you remember how we all laughed when you with confidence pronounced the words ‘stomach’ and ‘rhythm ‘- as ‘se-to-mech’ and ‘raith,mi’ ? Yes, we had a good laugh at your expense. but all that seemed to have inspired you, leading us at the end of the day.

Talking about collection of old books I still have a few in my dusty old cupboard. Many have gone missing during the course of moving houses over the years. One thing we had in common was collecting novels of famous writers. I still have Pearl S Buck’s The hidden flower, ,Imperial woman, Destination Chunhgking, A many splendoured thing;, and also our old English literature books, the likes of Macbeth, Grimble - Pattern islands; Sir Walter Scots - The Fortunes of Nigel; Thomas - Dare to be free;Dickens - David Copperfield; John Buchan and so on. Come and have a look at my collection.

I will end this long comments with a few quotes we used to repeat those years, “when shall we meet again? In thunder lightning or in rain?; When the hurly-burly's done; When the battle's lost and won,“ Wonderful time indeed we had – SIXTY years ago!

Wassalam. Zul

Al-Manar said...


Yang lama jangan di kenang.
Thank you for admitting the wrong you did on me. Nasib baik aku tak sumpah mu jadi gua di Pantai Chendering.

I will scan through your collection of ancient books and make copies. But would our grandchildren bother with books when a handset can do without?

Running through pages of those books and deciphering the faint words scribbled by the side of underlined words would paint a glow on your face and mine. Those scribbles would very likely have been copied from the faithful Chambers Dictionary. Whose child would want to flip through the thick dictionary just to find a word and had it copied when a handset can do all those today - old fools the old folks were, not us!

Your ancient copies would help me write this new series on old books; and a lunch at Hotel Malaysia.

ninotaziz said...

Oh, Pakcik. I cried reading The Good Earth. I read it about the same time I read Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan…

Did I ever tell you about my teacher Mrs Khaw? I never tire from talking about her. She taught me English, encouraged my poetry and was my gym coach - and until today, 35 years later, still pushes me to test my limits!

ninotaziz said...

My favorite read when I was seven was Bimbo and Topsy! At SSP, I loved Wuthering Heights and that was my all-time favorite before I found Dune and Lord of The Rings.

sintaicharles said...

I have read The Good Earth too, and it was such an engrossing read. I also have its second and third sequels.

Al-Manar said...

Dear Ninot,

Like puan Ngasobahseliman above you are still in touch with your English teacher. That is a wonderful relationship indeed.

I am pleasantly surprised that a person from a younger generation, like you, knows about an old authuor like Pearl S Buck. I hope the sterling works you are creating today will be there for the future children to appreciate.

Wish you success, Ninot

Al-Manar said...


I think book lovers possess certain common tendency to search for other books of a favourite writer. Every visitor above seems to own or have read more than just The Good Earth. I know from your blog you read widely.

Ismail aka Pak Mail said...

Assalamualaikom Pakcik,

Unfortunately, none of those I read though I went to an English school. I guess I was busy being a playful child those days.

Semoga Pakcik seisi keluarga sihat hendaknya.

Al-Manar said...


Waalakum Salaam

We belong to the same generation, but with different interest. I would never be able to ride the waves as you are able to. To me it is a rocking chair with a book, not being rocked by heavy sea. With kind regards from me.

Unknown said...

assalam alaykum Pak Cik
good series on English books experience in Trengganu.
Awang Goneng would have a field day commenting on this subject, I would imagine.
After all, where else would one find a Grammar School beyond the realms of the English isles if not in Big Hill (Bukit Besar)
Lest I forget, I wish you Eid Al Adha Mubarak and may all of your good deeds be accepted by Allah the exalted, most high.
I'd be interested to know who those English teachers were whom you referred to as wives of senior civil servants/PWD officers who were posted to Kuala Trengganu.
Still on the subject, I'd recommend Awang Goneng's growing up in Trengganu as a must read, particularly for us Trengganu folks.
I insist, in just as much as Awang Goneng has, on the traditional Her Majesty's spelling of Trengganu - not Terengganu!

Allah bless you and grant you wellbeing inshaAllah.

abu faris

Al-Manar said...


Of course you are from Trengganu and know Awang Goneng. I wonder if your mentioning of Grammar School is meant to be a hint. You would laugh if I tell you that once I had a school certificate for FIVE ringgits cash! With that I cheated my way into Sekolah orang puteh Sultan Sulaiman where I came to know two real Mat Saleh ladies, an elderly Mrs Palmer and a younger and rather attractive Mrs Paton - not Paton of Paton Place!

Awang Goneng is really a Mat Saleh, you know. I will tell you the true story if you tell me your name. I bet you do not know where Pengkalan Maras is - in the East of Eden. Come again to tell me stories.

Salaam to you and a belated Selamat Hari Rasyas Qurban.